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Bolivian police battle with Morales supporters, death toll jumps

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By Reuters
Bolivian police battle with Morales supporters, death toll jumps
Silhouettes of riot police officers are seen in Sacaba, outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia, November 15, 2019. Picture taken November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Danilo Balderrama   -   Copyright  DANILO BALDERRAMA(Reuters)

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Clashes between security forces and Bolivian coca farmers loyal to ousted former President Evo Morales left as many as eight dead and more than 100 injured late on Friday, the regional ombudsman told Reuters, prompting Morales to decry a “massacre.”

Morales resigned under pressure from Bolivia´s police and military last Sunday after evidence of vote rigging tainted his Oct. 20 election victory. He then fled to Mexico.

The leftist and charismatic former coca farmer has called his ouster a “coup,” and decried growing allegations of heavy-handed repression by Bolivian security forces.

“The coup leaders massacre indigenous people and humble people for asking for democracy,” Morales said on Twitter late Friday, following reports of mounting deaths.

The violence in Bolivia adds to a wave of unrest in the region, including in neighbour Chile, where protests over social inequalities spiralled out of control and left at least 20 dead.

Cochabamba regional ombudsman Nelson Cox said hospital records in the coca farming region showed the “vast majority” of Friday´s deaths and injuries had been caused by bullet wounds. He called the reaction of security forces in the region an “act of repression.”

“We are working with the national ombudsman´s office to conduct autopsies to determine the cause of death and seek justice for these victims,” Cox told Reuters in an interview Saturday morning.

Supporters continue to agitate for Morales, blocking major highways, cutting oil pipelines and launching mass protests in the streets of La Paz, El Alto and in coca farming regions long loyal to him.

Though the capital La Paz was calm Saturday morning, highway blockades prompted panic on the streets, with many rushing to hoard groceries as supplies ran low and prices rose.

Bolivia´s national ombudsman said Friday that total deaths had hit 19 since the Oct. 20 election, a number which has accelerated over the last week.

The rising body count prompted Morales to strike a more conciliatory tone with the government of interim President Jeanine Anez in recent days.

“For the sake of democracy, if they don’t want me to take part, I have no problem not taking part in new elections,” Morales told Reuters in an interview in Mexico City.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos, writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Nick Zieminski)