Bolivia's dueling parties converge on new vote to calm political chaos
By Daniel Ramos
LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia's interim government and lawmakers from the party of unseated leftist leader Evo Morales appeared to have reach an accord late on Thursday to hold a new presidential election, potentially helping resolve country's political crisis.
Morales resigned under pressure on Sunday after weeks of protests and violence following an Oct. 20 election that awarded an outright win to him but was tarnished by widespread allegations of fraud.
In a late night Senate session, the chamber's president, a member of Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party, said there was agreement between the opposition and government to hold a new election as soon as possible.
The aim was "to pacify our country and above all to defend democracy," said Mónica Eva Copa Murga, who had earlier been confirmed in her role.
She called on Bolivia's security forces, who have been involved in street skirmishes with pro-Morales supporters, to treat the country's indigenous groups with respect.
"Let's get rid of colors, of radical positions, what our country is looking for right now is peace," she said.
Morales, a charismatic leftist, had been in power since 2006 when he became the South American country's first indigenous president.
Interim President Jeanine Anez, who took over on Tuesday after a spate of resignations, had earlier indicated she wanted to mend bridges with Morales' party. She said, however, that Morales himself would not be welcome as a candidate.
Anez, 52, is trying to lead a sharply divided Bolivia that has been rocked by protests since last month's election.
Morales resigned after an Organization of American States audit found electoral irregularities and the military withdrew its backing and urged him to step down to help restore calm.
Morales and his vice president Alvaro Garcia, who also resigned, have been offered asylum by Mexico.
For a graphic on Timeline of events in Bolivia, click https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L25D/bolivia.jpg
NO FOURTH TERM
"Evo Morales does not qualify to run for a fourth term," Anez, a conservative former senator, told a news conference on Thursday, adding the country's "convulsions" were because he had run in defiance of term limits.
She said MAS, which has a majority in Congress, was welcome to participate in the vote and should start looking for a candidate.
Morales ran again for president despite a 2016 referendum against lifting term limits, after a court packed with loyalists gave him a green light to run indefinitely.
Jerjes Justiniano, one of Anez's newly appointed ministers, earlier told reporters that the interim government was pursuing talks with MAS.
In comments aired on channel Unitel, he added that MAS had sought assurance that Morales would be able to return freely to Bolivia.
"There's no problem with that, it's just one citizen more."
Anez did not give a specific date for the election.
Under the constitution she has 90 days to do so after declaring herself interim leader by invoking the constitutional line of succession earlier this week.
Morales has said he was the victim of a coup and his supporters have continued to agitate on his behalf with marches and skirmishes in the streets of La Paz and nearby El Alto. On Thursday thousands of Morales supporters marched in La Paz.
Morales, tweeting from Mexico, has called for dialogue to help "pacify" Bolivia, asking the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church to help find a solution. The United Nations is sending an envoy.
Meanwhile, Anez is shoring up her position. She has appointed a new military chief and cabinet members, while MAS lawmakers seemed to have backed away from plans to try to nullify her interim appointment.
Russia, an ally for Bolivia under Morales, said it would work with Anez and recognize her as Bolivia's leader pending a new election.
The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez. Other governments in South America, including neighboring Peru and Argentina, have so far held off.
At least 10 people have been killed in the protests since last month's vote, the public prosecutor's office said, mostly by projectiles from firearms.
For a graphic on power vacuum in Bolivia, click https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L265/line-succession.jpg
(Reporting by Daniel Ramos, Gram Slattery and Monica Machicao in La Paz; Additional reporting by Mitra Taj in Lima and Marina Lammertyn in Buenos Aires; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Frances Kerry)