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Bolivian protest leader holed up in airport with Morales supporters outside

Bolivian protest leader holed up in airport with Morales supporters outside
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LA PAZ (Reuters) – A Bolivian protest leader pushing for President Evo Morales’ resignation was stuck at an airport near the capital on Tuesday fearing for his safety as pro-government crowds milled outside.

Luis Fernando Camacho had flown from his base in Santa Cruz to La Paz with a pre-written resignation letter for Morales after urging Bolivians at a rally on Monday night to “paralyse” government institutions.

That followed more than two weeks of protests and strikes over a contentious election victory for Morales last month, which has pushed the poor landlocked South American country into a snarling democratic crisis.

Camacho, who has emerged as an influential opposition figure, said on Twitter in the early hours of Tuesday he was unable to leave El Alto international airport due to potential threats from Morales supporters waiting outside.

Luis Almagro, head of the Organization of American States (OAS) which is auditing the Oct. 20 vote, called on Bolivian authorities to ensure his free movement.

Morales, Bolivia’s long-standing leftist leader, is facing rising pressure from opposition groups pushing for him to step down or allow a new election.

Morales won the vote with a lead of just over 10 points, giving him an outright win, but the victory was marred by a near 24-hour halt in the count, which, when resumed, showed a sharp and unexplained shift in his favour.

The OAS has previously recommended a second round vote.

Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, who came to power in 2006, has defended his election win and backed the OAS audit to resolve the crisis, which has seen blockades in cities and street clashes that have caused some deaths.

The government said in a statement on Tuesday that once it knew of Camacho’s arrival in El Alto it had mobilized police to protect him. At the time of the statement, it said that he was in a secure area of the airport.

Reuters was unable to immediately reach Camacho for comment.

(Reporting by Monica Machicao in La Paz; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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