By Agence France-Presse
Bolivia’s Evo Morales departed Monday for exile in Mexico, leaving behind a country in turmoil after his abrupt resignation as president.
As the nation suddenly found itself without a leader, the military agreed to help police take back streets lost to violence from disgruntled supporters of Bolivia’s first indigenous president.
The senator set to succeed Morales as interim president, Jeanine Anez, pledged to call fresh elections to end the political crisis.
Bolivia appeared increasingly rudderless after dozens of officials and ministers resigned along with Morales, some seeking refuge in foreign embassies.
Morales left the country on a military plane sent for him by Mexico, which granted him political asylum for his safety. Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard confirmed Morales was on the plane.
“It pains me to leave the country for political reasons, but I will always be watching. I will be back soon with more strength and energy,” Morales tweeted.
The crisis touched off by his resignation Sunday — after three weeks of protests over his disputed re-election — deepened Monday as gangs unhappy with his departure attacked police stations and civilians, triggering panic in the streets.
On Monday night hundreds of Morales supporters who traveled to La Paz from nearby El Alto protested outside the presidential palace.
Overwhelmed police asked for help from the army.
“The military command of the armed forces has arranged for joint operations with the police to prevent bloodshed and fighting amongst the Bolivian family,” said chief General Williams Kaliman in a televised address.
Three people have died in clashes since the disputed election.
Morales supporters arrested
Morales claimed on Twitter late Monday that two of his homes had been attacked by “vandalism groups.”
Opposition leader Carlos Mesa claimed on Twitter that “a violent mob” was heading for his home to attack it.
AFP photographers saw civilians making arrests after tussling with Morales supporters in La Paz, sometimes assisted by police. Some of those detained were made to kneel in the street, hands behind their backs, and some were bloodied.
Shops and offices in La Paz were shuttered on Monday in the wake of looting that broke out late Sunday in parts of La Paz and El Alto.
The police — largely confined to barracks since riots broke out on Friday, with many units joining the protests — were returning to the streets, police chief Vladimir Yuri Calderon said.
Several of Morales’ ministers and top officials resigned after his announcement — including many who sought refuge at the Mexican embassy — raising the question of who was in charge, given that vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera had also quit.
Under the constitution, power then passes to the president of the Senate and the speaker of the lower house of Congress, in that order. But they have resigned too.
Anez stepped in on Sunday to say she would assume the presidency, given her position as deputy senate leader.
The 52-year-old is likely to be tasked by Congress to oversee fresh elections and a transition to a new government by January 22.
Lawmakers are due to meet on Tuesday to begin the process.