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Uneasy Calm in Bolivia as Lawmakers Threaten Showdown With Interim Leader

LA PAZ, Bolivia — With the backing of the military, Bolivia’s interim president, Jeanine Añez Chavez, met with advisers on Wednesday to appoint a new cabinet even as backers of former President Evo Morales pledged to disrupt the new government and nullify Ms. Añez’s climb to power.

After days of looting and violent demonstrations in the wake of Mr. Morales’s ouster this weekend, the streets of Bolivia’s largest city, La Paz, appeared almost normal Wednesday morning, after clouds of tear gas from the night before had lifted.

Businesses were reopening and bus and hospital service returning to regular schedules. Police officers stationed around the Legislative Assembly sat on curbs eating popped corn, leaving the staffing of nearby barricades to their civilian supporters.

But the calm was uneasy the day after Ms. Añez declared herself interim president before a special session of the Legislative Assembly. The session was boycotted by supporters of Mr. Morales. They remain in the majority, even after he resigned on Sunday and fled to Mexico seeking asylum.

By midday on Wednesday, several thousand mostly Indigenous Morales supporters marched through the streets of La Paz peacefully, waving colorful Aymara flags and setting off firecrackers. The crowd was smaller than in previous days, and appeared to stay clear of police positions around the legislature and the government palace.

The political crisis and subsequent demonstrations were set off by the recent disputed presidential election in which Mr. Morales, 60, declared victory. His grip on power swiftly began to erode as the opposition said the vote had been rigged and protesters poured into the streets.

Some police units defected and joined the protests, and military officials called on Mr. Morales, the country’s first Indigenous leader, to resign. Then an audit by the Organization of American States said that the Oct. 20 vote had been marred by irregularities and that the group could not validate Mr. Morales’s victory.

From Mexico, Mr. Morales has repeatedly denounced Ms. Añez as an illegitimate president, even as she has said she intends to stay in power only until new elections can be held, in 90 days.

A former media executive and conservative legislator, Ms. Añez quickly gained the support of the Bolivian Army’s high command, who visited her on Wednesday for a planning meeting at the government palace. Her backers released photos of members of the high command saluting her.

The formation of a new government appeared to have eased some of the tension around the capital. Looting and clashes between the police and demonstrators across the country have left at least eight dead in recent weeks, according to Bolivian news reports.

But the new government was welcomed enthusiastically by crowds in Santa Cruz, a longtime center of dissent against Mr. Morales, and other localities. But it appears that few people know much about Ms. Añez, who took power from an obscure legislative post.

“I can’t say that I like her or not,” Victor Pusari, the son of an apartment building porter, who was guarding the entrance of his central La Paz building, said on Wednesday. “But we need a leader, someone to be in charge.”

On Wednesday, police officers guarding the assembly said they expected crowds of Morales supporters to descend for a third day in a row from El Alto, a nearby mountain city with a heavy Indigenous population. This time, they were expected to be joined by pro-Morales lawmakers who might try to retake the assembly.

Some Bolivians said they were prepared.

“When they come, we’re here to defend,” said Jarameel Armas, a university student who joined the police at a barricade of corrugated metal and heavy chains. “We will defend the new government and the democracy we have won.”

Source: NYT > World News

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