UN envoy slams police killings
BOLIVIANS suffered long lines on the streets of La Paz yesterday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales continued to cripple the country’s highways, isolating population centres from lowland farms.
Officials said a massive Hercules military plane had touched down in the highland capital of La Paz on Saturday with a cargo full of meat products, bypassing the barricaded highways that drop down out of the city.
Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano said the government had established an “air bridge” to La Paz. He said officials hoped to do the same with other major Bolivian cities cut off from supplies.
The Andean nation erupted into crisis following the country’s October 20 election. Then-president Morales, who won the election, resigned last Sunday after an Organisation of American States audit revealed evidence of vote rigging. He fled to Mexico.
Morales’ supporters took to the streets shortly after, sometimes armed with home-made bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.
As violence escalated, many in the poorer regions of La Paz have taken to cooking over firewood as long lines for gas, canisters and scarce food complicated life.
“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighbourhood. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”
Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine dead, officials said.
The deaths have prompted allegations of human rights abuses by police forces.
UN envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups beginning yesterday, to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections”.
Meanwhile Arnault met with Bolivia’s interim president on Saturday to find a way out of the country’s political crisis while the world body expressed concern the situation could “spin out of control” amid a rising death toll.
On leaving the meeting with interim leader Jeanine Anez, Arnault said the UN hoped it could contribute to an “accelerated pacification process” leading to new elections following the resignation and exile of Morales.
Meanwhile, another international body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, condemned Anez’s government for issuing a decree it says “exempts from criminal responsibility” soldiers who took part in efforts to break up protests and unrest that have left at least 23 people dead.
The norm was approved before the most violent day since the crisis began, when at least eight pro-Morales coca growers were killed during a demonstration.
Earlier on Saturday UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the deaths “an extremely dangerous development”.
“I am really concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it sensitively,” she said.
Protesters said police fired on Friday when they tried to cross a military checkpoint in Sacaba, a town near Cochabamba. Many of the protesters were coca leaf growers loyal to Morales, who had been Bolivia’s first indigenous president before being pressured to step down by Bolivia’s military chief after weeks of widespread protests over a disputed election.
Witnesses described seeing bodies of several protesters and dozens of people rushed to hospitals, many covered in blood. |