November 22, 2019 / 7:22 PM / 18 days ago

Bolivia's interim government charges Morales with sedition and terrorism

LA PAZ, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Bolivia’s interim government filed a criminal complaint on Friday against former President Evo Morales for alleged sedition and terrorism, the interior minister said, as authorities began probes of his allies that they accuse of corruption and fomenting unrest.

Interim President Jeanine Anez, a former senator and opponent of Morales, has faced a wave of demonstrations by his supporters since taking office in a power vacuum last week.

Morales and his vice president stepped down under pressure from security forces and anti-government protesters on Nov. 10, amid reports of irregularities in the Oct. 20 election. Morales fled to Mexico and says he was toppled in a coup.

At least 29 have been killed in clashes since he resigned.

Interior Minister Arturo Murillo said he asked the public prosecutor’s office to open an investigation into Morales, based on audio in which, from Mexico, Morales allegedly directed plans for road blockades in Bolivia to destabilize the interim government.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the audio, which was played to reporters at a news conference earlier this week. Morales’ former health minister, Gabriela Montano, called the audio “fake.”

Murillo told journalists outside the prosecutors’ office in La Paz: “The evidence is clear. We’ve presented it.”

Morales could not immediately be reached for comment. He said on Twitter that authorities should be investigating the death of protesters instead of going after him on the basis of what he described as fake evidence.

It was unclear if prosecutors would investigate Morales or eventually file charges. The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Blocking roads is a common form of protest in Bolivia and much of South America, though intense blockades by Morales supporters in the past week have cut off fuel and food to some cities.

Authorities have transported some 1,400 tonnes of food by plane in less than a week to the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Oruro and Sucre due to blockades, Productive Development Minister Wilfredo Rojo told journalists on Friday.

Anez pleaded with protesters to end an ongoing blockade at a natural gas plant that supplies La Paz. Eight people died in clashes after the military forcibly cleared access to it briefly on Tuesday.

“I ask for reflection from brothers who are carrying out this unnecessary blockade,” Anez said at the presidential palace on Friday. “We’re all Bolivians. You can’t punish the city of La Paz.”

Anez reiterated that she will only stay in power long enough for there to be new elections. But her critics say her cabinet have overstepped the bounds of a caretaker government by making changes to foreign policy and threatening to punish Morales’ allies.

Under Anez, authorities have alleged that several of Morales’ allies have taken part in criminal activity, including the former culture minister, the former vice president’s brother, and the vice president of his Movement to Socialism (MAS) political party.

Murillo said on Friday that he was also asking prosecutors to investigate Morales’ former presidency minister, Juan Ramon Quintana, for sedition and terrorism for allegedly telling a news outlet that Bolivia would become a modern Vietnam. Reuters could not verify the accuracy of his quoted comments or immediately reach him for a response.

A lawyer affiliated with opponents of Morales, Jorge Valda, said he planned to ask authorities to issue an arrest warrant for Morales’ 25-year-old daughter, Evaliz Morales, on Tuesday for alleged sedition and corruption.

Evaliz could not immediately be reached for comment. (Reporting by Daniel Ramos in La Paz, Additional reporting by Diego Ore in Mexico City, Writing by Mitra Taj, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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