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Protests pile pressure on interim Bolivia president

Supporters of ousted Bolivian leader Evo Morales launched fresh protests against the new government, marching on La Paz. ©AFP

La Paz (AFP) - Thousands of demonstrators marched through La Paz on Thursday, piling pressure on the government of interim president Jeanine Anez as she tried to consolidate power in deeply polarized Bolivia.

Columns of people streamed into the city from the neighboring town of El Alto for the second day running to decry what many said was a coup. 

Waving multicolored "wiphala" indigenous flags, many of the demonstrators chanted: "The time is now, civil war" and "Come back Evo!"

Pledging early elections, Anez -- a previously obscure lawmaker -- proclaimed herself acting president on Tuesday after Evo Morales fled the country for Mexico, fearing for his safety amid deadly protests.

Unrest erupted when Morales -- Bolivia's first indigenous president -- was accused of rigging the results of October 20 polls to gain re-election for a fourth term.

Thursday's protests included Morales supporters like the "red ponchos" -- members of Morales' Aymara indigenous people -- as well as ordinary people fed up with the political events in the country.

"We are calling for the resignation of this racist president, this putschist," said Juan Gutierrez, an Aymara.

Riot police had clashed with hundreds of Morales supporters on Wednesday night during the previous demonstration against Anez, whom Morales accused of carrying out a "coup."

Twitter attacks

Morales has kept up attacks on the new government via Twitter from his exile in Mexico.

Anez told reporters Thursday that new Foreign Minister Karen Longari would "make representations" to Mexico to insist that Morales be held to the terms of his political asylum and prevented from interfering in Bolivia's politics.

Morales's Movement for Socialism (MAS) party on Thursday accused her of "continuing to incite violence" in the country, which has been in turmoil since Morales's contested re-election.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged all sides to refrain from violence and said his personal envoy Jean Arnault was travelling to La Paz to engage "with all Bolivian actors and offer United Nations support to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis."

With tensions high, the government said it had opened negotiations with lawmakers from Morales' party. 

"We have set up talks and we believe we can bring peace to the country," said Anez's cabinet chief Jerjes Justiniano.

The claim could not immediately be confirmed with the MAS party.

International recognition

Nearly a month of protests have left 10 people dead and almost 400 wounded.

Normal business has resumed in the main cities, but schools and universities remained shut due to the continued threat of demonstrations.Many gas stations remained closed because of a lack of supplies.

Buoyed by growing international recognition, Anez was expected to complete her government line-up, having named new military chiefs and half of her proposed 20-member cabinet the night before.

New Defense Minister Fernandez Lopez Julio said in a speech at the military college in La Paz that the new government would bring peace to the country.

"Above all, we will have to have faith in God," he said, highlighting the conservative Christian emphasis of Anez's government after she set the tone by brandishing a bible when assuming office on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Arturo Murillo announced the government would "hunt down" a former Morales minister, Juan Ramon Quintana, accused of masterminding opposition to his successor. 

Quintana "is an animal that feeds off blood," said Murillo, while Anez has publicly insisted there would be no persecution of Morales's inner circle.

The United States, Russia and Guatemala all recognized Anez as the interim president, though Moscow said it considered Morales the victim of a coup.

"This is not about recognizing what has happened in Bolivia as a legitimate process," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

Break with Maduro

Anez gave the first indication of her government's foreign policy by recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as his country's president -- a key shift of alliance in the volatile region.

The announcement removes one of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's main allies as he fends off efforts to oust him amid a deadly economic and political crisis.Maduro's opponents have branded him a dictator.

Anez's decision signals a significant break from socialist leader Morales's position on Maduro.

Guaido has declared himself Venezuela's rightful president.He has gained the recognition of 50 countries, including the United States, but has so far failed to dislodge Maduro.

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