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Bolivia’s President Urges Citizens To Take To Streets To Defend Against Apparent Coup

Bolivia’s president Luis Arce has urged citizens to take to the streets to defend the country’s democracy from an apparent coup attempt after heavily armed army troops seized control of La Paz’s political heart and military police were filmed trying to force their way into the former government palace.

“We need the Bolivian people to mobilize and organize themselves against this coup d’état and in favour of democracy,” Arce said in a video message filmed at the Great House of the People, the official presidential residence in Bolivia’s de facto capital of La Paz.

Flanked by members of his cabinet, Arce declared: “We cannot allow, once again, attempted coups to claim Bolivian lives.”

“Long live the people of Bolivia! Long live democracy!” the ministers shouted, thrusting their left fists into the air. “Long live our president, Luis Arce!”

The comments came after other members of Arce’s leftwing administration and Latin American leaders claimed an army-led putsch was underway.

“We denounce to the international community that a coup attempt against our democratically elected government,” the vice-president, David Choquehuanca, tweeted on Wednesday afternoon.

In a video message, foreign minister Celinda Sosa Lunda claimed some army units had launched an attack on “democracy, peace and national security”.

Minutes earlier, Arce had taken to social media to report an “irregular mobilization” of some members of the military. “Democracy must be respected,” he tweeted.

Military troops deployed outside the Quemado Palace at the Plaza de Armas in La Paz on 26 June 2024. Photograph: Aizar Raldes/AFP/Getty ImagesFormer president Evo Morales also sounded the alarm as troubling images of the disturbances spread on social media. Morales urged supporters to take to the streets and block roads to oppose the alleged coup attempt, which he blamed on the recently sacked army commander General Juan José Zúñiga, who was reportedly removed from his post on the eve of Wednesday’s turmoil.

“We will not allow the armed forces to violate democracy and intimidate the people,” wrote Morales, who was Bolivia’s first president of Indigenous descent but had to flee the country in 2019 after what supporters call a US-backed coup. Morales returned from exile after Arce’s election the following year.

On the eve of his 2020 inauguration, Arce, who is a UK-educated economist, told the Guardian: “We have reclaimed democracy for Bolivia, and our message is that we will not tolerate any kind of de facto dictatorial regime or coup in Latin America.”

On Wednesday afternoon, that democracy looked in peril as television footage showed masked members of the military police forcing their way into the Palacio Quemado.

The newspaper Los Tiempos quoted the head of Bolivia’s army as saying that Arce remained president “for the time being”.

Speaking in neighbouring Paraguay, the head of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, said it would not tolerate “any kind of rupture of the legitimate constitutional order in Bolivia”.

As the drama played out, prominent Latin American leaders also spoke out against the attempted power grab. Mexico’s president-elect Claudia Sheinbaum denounced what she called an “attack against democracy”. “Our unconditional support to President Luís Arce and his people,” she wrote on social media.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, urged Bolivians “to defend their democracy, their constitution and their president … No to fascism! no to putchism! … How dare they try to impose a coup in the 21st century,” Maduro said.

More details soon …

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