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Bolivia’s Morales leaves for Mexico as protests rage in La Paz

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Bolivia´s military and police readied on Monday to quell acts of "vandalism" posing a threat to citizens as La Paz braced for violent clashes with thousands of supporters of ousted president Evo Morales marching toward the capital city, where opposition protesters and police set up barricades.

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Morales, who was granted asylum by Mexico after he resigned on Sunday following a dispute election, said in a tweet on Monday night that he was leaving for Mexico but vowed to return "with more strength and energy."

Evo Morales tweets a photo of his first night away from his presidential home and thanks the people of Cochabamba for protecting him. Evo Morales tweet

A Mexican government plane left the airport of the Bolivian city of Chimore to transport Morales, Unitel television reported. Earlier, the Peruvian government said that a Mexican government plane had stopped in Lima to refuel, before leaving for Bolivia.

Ahead of the news of Morales' departure, police said the crowd of protesters heading toward La Paz originated from the nearby city of El Alto.

Around La Paz´s central Murillo square and other parts of the city, opposition protesters erected roadblocks made of metal scraps and other debris, as tension mounted following Morales' resignation on Sunday.

The country´s Armed Forces Commander Williams Kaliman told journalists in La Paz that troops would deploy along with police, using "proportionate force against acts of vandalism groups that cause terror in the population."

Police chief Yuri Calderón added: "This mission begins today and will end when peace will be restored throughout the Bolivian territory."

Police officers in the unit charged with protecting the city's legislative assembly, told Reuters they were expecting a serious confrontation. One said they would use live ammunition, and the police chief said on TV he was seeking military support.

"It's very worrying. There was a lot of fear and panic last night. I think people are similarly if not more scared this evening," a Western diplomat in the city said, adding that most embassies had been shut with staff working from home.

"The danger is a bit indiscriminate. So people can easily get caught up in something," the ambassador said.

Legislators, who had been discussing the nuts and bolts of a potential provisional government on Monday in the assembly under heavy police guard, were later evacuated, one lawmaker said.

The departure of Morales, Bolivia's first Indigenous president and part of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin America's politics at the start of the century, followed weeks of violent protests over allegations of fraud in the Oct. 20 election.

The 60-year-old former llama herder and coca leaf farmer was viewed by many as a champion of the poor who brought steady economic growth, but to others he was an autocrat who overstepped by defying a referendum on presidential term limits.

His government collapsed on Sunday after the Organization of American States (OAS) delivered a damning report into serious irregularities during the October vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.

The audit found "clear manipulation" of the count and "serious security flaws," which the OAS said meant the result should not stand and new elections should be held.

"Do what's necessary"

Foes celebrated Morales' departure but also moved to find a temporary successor before a presumed new election in the landlocked nation that is one of South America's poorest, dependent on farming and natural gas.

With Morales' deputy and many allies in government and parliament gone with him, opposition politician and Senate second vice-president Jeanine Anez flew into La Paz saying she was willing to take control. She was later taken by the military to the legislative assembly.

"If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what's necessary to call transparent elections," said Anez, who is constitutionally next in line to assume the presidency.

Speaking tearfully about the crisis, she said the Senate would look to hold a session on Tuesday and urged members of Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party to attend to find a constitutional solution and interim president.

Morales' resignation still needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly, convened by both chambers of Congress. The Assembly said it planned to meet at 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Tuesday, though with clashes gripping the city it was not yet clear if it would go ahead.

Gangs, fires, clashes

Overnight on Sunday, gangs had roamed the highland capital, businesses were attacked and properties were set on fire. Schools and shops were largely closed, while public transport halted, roads were blocked, and rival political groups clashed on the streets.

Bolivia's Armed Forces said it would move to protect essential public services amid rising violence and vandalism that has seen electricRead More – Source