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Bolivia election audit begins after street clashes turn deadly

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By Daniel Ramos and Vivian Sequera

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivia was set to start a politically charged review of the recent presidential election on Thursday, as the country contended with protests and street clashes that have left at least two dead and others injured.

The Organization of American States was expected to conduct the audit of the fiercely contested Oct. 20 vote, which handed socialist President Evo Morales a first-round win, with just above the 10-point lead needed to avoid a runoff against main rival Carlos Mesa.

Protests over the election have convulsed Bolivia. The government said in a statement that two people, identified as Mario Salvatierra, 55, and Marcelo Terrazas, 41, died in Montero, a municipality in the department of Santa Cruz, an agricultural and industrial centre in eastern Bolivia.

Six men were also injured in the Montero protests. The Morales administration blamed the opposition for the violence.

    “You are responsible for all these attacks. You, Mr. Mesa, are responsible,” Government Minister Carlos Romero said on state television on Thursday.

Mesa, 66, who was president of Bolivia from 2003 to 2005, has not commented on the Montero event.

The OAS review will be “binding” for all parties, Bolivian Foreign Minister Diego Pary told reporters on Wednesday. The audit should have results within two weeks, the OAS said.

Furor erupted when the initial vote count was inexplicably disrupted, sparking the anger of opposition supporters, allegations of vote-rigging, and concern from the OAS and foreign governments including the United States and Brazil.

Morales, who swept to power in 2006 as the country’s first indigenous leader, has overseen almost 14 years of relative stability and reliable economic growth in one of Latin America’s poorest nations.

(Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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