Rioting has erupted in at least nine cities around Bolivia over claims of fraud in a presidential election held Sunday that could hand leftist incumbent candidate Evo Morales his fourth term.
Angry crowds have gathered in several cities, including outside of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal where votes are being tallied in La Paz. Accusations of election fraud emerged when the tribunal suddenly halted a live count that initially showed Morales and conservative rival Carlos Mesa likely going into a runoff.
With 97% of votes counted, Morales had a leader of 9.42 percentage points over Mesa. He needs a 10-point lead to avoid a runoff vote and clinch the presidency.
Mesa called on Bolivians "to conduct a battle in defense of the vote" but discouraged protesters from turning to violence in their fight to end this "dictatorship".
But protesters in Sucre, the constitutional capital, set the regional headquarters of the electoral court on fire and chanted "respect my vote!" One of Morales' party offices was attacked in Cochabamba and a general strike has begun in Santa Cruz de la Sierra. There are reports of fighting between Morales and Mesa supporters and police have used tear gas to disperse angry crowds.
If declared winner, this will be Morales fourth term as president. Bolivia's constitution limits presidents to serving two terms, a move upheld by a 2016 referendum. But the country's Constitutional Court ruled that it would violate Morales' human rights to deny his candidacy.
The EU and UN have also expressed concern over reports of election fraud.
kp/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)