Bolivia moves to end power vacuum as Morales condemns 'sneaky coup'

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LA PAZ - A senator proclaimed herself Bolivia's interim president Tuesday in an effort to fill the power vacuum left by the abrupt resignation of Evo Morales, who immediately condemned the move as a "sneaky coup."

Lawmakers had been summoned to formalize the resignation and confirm deputy Senate speaker Jeanine Anez, 52, as interim president.

Instead, Anez declared herself interim president when the session failed to reach a quorum of lawmakers, many staying away amid blockades and continuing protests by Morales supporters.

The Constitutional Court later endorsed her appointment.

"We want to call new elections as soon as possible," Anez said in a speech to Congress, with only Morales opponents present.

"It's a commitment we have made to the country and of course, we will fulfill it," she said.

Later, clutching a bible and wearing the presidential sash over her black jacket, the senator addressed supporters from the balcony of the government palace.

Anez said earlier she was confident that enough senators would reach the Senate to form a quorum -- 19 of the 36 were needed to do so.

Tweeting from exile in Mexico, Morales immediately condemned what he called "the sneakiest, most nefarious coup in history."

Morales called Anez "a coup-mongering right-wing senator" and said she had "declared herself... interim president without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices."

Leaders of the biggest party, Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS), had requested guarantees to be able to attend the session, but stayed away.

Security forces fired tear gas in street clashes in La Paz immediately after the Congress session.

Carlos Mesa, the centrist candidate defeated by Morales in the tainted October 20 presidential elections, tweeted his congratulations to Anez, who has promised a new government would be installed by January 22.

Powerful opposition figure Luis Fernandez Camacho, regional leader in eastern department of Santa Cruz, announced he had lifted strikes and blockades called three weeks ago in protest at Morales' disputed re-election.

Morales resigned after losing the support of the security forces, leaving the country suddenly rudderless. Dozens of officials and ministers also stepped down, some seeking refuge in foreign embassies.

Anez found herself next in line to take over after the resignations of vice president Alvaro Garcia Linera, the Senate president, and the speaker of the lower house of Congress. -AFP


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