Protesters seize state-run media in Bolivia as tensions soar - GulfToday

Protesters seize state-run media in Bolivia as tensions soar


People shout slogans during a protest against Bolivia's President Evo Morales in La Paz, Bolivia. Reuters

Opposition demonstrators in Bolivia overran two state-run media outlets and forced them off the air Saturday and some police stopped guarding the square where President Evo Morales' palace is located, as tensions remained high after a disputed election.

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Demonstrators burst into the offices of Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva and forced employees to leave, accusing them of serving the interests of Morales, said the director of the latter of the two, Ivan Maldonado.

Demonstrators shut down the facilities of the state-run Bolivia TV and Radio Patria Nueva in La Paz, Bolivia. Reuters

"We were evicted by force after receiving constant threats from people gathered outside," Maldonado told the media.

Some 40 employees were seen leaving the building that the two news organizations share in La Paz, walking hand in hand as a crowd of some 300 demonstrators yelled insults. Afterward, both outlets broadcast only music.

It was the latest thrust of a movement protesting alleged vote-counting fraud in the election last month that gave Morales a fourth straight term.

Morales denounced the seizure of the media outlets. "They say they defend democracy, but they behave as if they were in a dictatorship," he tweeted.

A radio station run by a farmers' union was also seized by protesters, Morales said.

He said opposition militants had also set fire to the home of his sister in the southern city of Oruro as part of what he called an effort to overthrow him.

Footage on social media showed the home of his elder sister Esther partially in flames. The homes of the regional governor and that of Chuquisaca province governor were also set on fire.

Morales called earlier in the day for urgent, open-ended dialogue with opposition parties holding seats in the National Assembly, but he pointedly excluded the powerful regional civic committees opposing him.

Demonstrators with makeshift shields protest against President Evo Morales' reelection, in La Paz, Bolivia. AP

An opposition leader, former president Carlos Mesa, immediately rejected Morales's gesture, saying, "We have nothing to negotiate with Evo Morales and his government."

A police rebellion erupted Friday among an elite tactical operations unit called UTOP in the central city of Cochabamba. It then spread to units in Sucre, the constitutional capital, and Santa Cruz, a bastion of opposition strength in the east.

During the night the rebellion reached other cities but mostly spared La Paz, the country's administrative capital, local media reported.

But in a worrying sign for the Morales government, the UTOP officers in La Paz who for weeks have closely guarded the central Plaza Murillo -- where the presidential palace is located -- withdrew to their quarters Saturday in evident solidarity with the protests, an AFP reporter observed.

The sector remained guarded only by a small number of officers.

Opposition groups have branded the election result a fraud and demanded Morales's resignation. Three people have died so far and hundreds injured in unrest triggered by the protests.

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