Police outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandon posts

Police guards outside the presidential palace in Bolivia have left their posts, allowing anti-government protesters to enter the compound

Police guards outside the presidential palace in Bolivia left their posts on Saturday, increasing pressure on President Evo Morales as he tries to stabilize the country after a disputed election.

Growing dissension in police ranks poses a new threat to Morales, who claimed victory after the Oct. 20 vote but has since faced nationwide protests in which three people have been killed and hundreds injured.

Morales faces “the most complicated moment” in his 14 years in power and the situation could deteriorate, said Jorge Dulón, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Bolivia in La Paz.

The Organization of American States is conducting an audit of the election count and its findings are expected Monday or Tuesday. The opposition, which has alleged vote-rigging, says it will not accept the results because they were not consulted about the audit plan.

Police units in some cities started protesting on Friday, marching in the streets in uniform as anti-government protesters cheered them from the sidewalks.

Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta initially downplayed the police protests, saying a “police mutiny occurred in a few regions.”

Gen. Williams Kaliman, the military chief, said Saturday that the military had no plans to intervene.

“We’ll never confront the people among whom we live, we guarantee peaceful co-existence,” he said. “This is a political problem and it should be resolved within that realm.”

The spectacle of police abandoning their positions outside the presidential palace was an ominous development for Morales.

Officials in the palace were evacuated, leaving only a military presidential guard. Protesters moved peacefully to the doors of the compound, and later left the area.

A list of demands of dissident police include better working conditions, the resignation of their commander and guarantees that they won’t be used as a political “instrument of any government.”

Morales has called for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, while also accusing his opponents of trying to overthrow Bolivia’s rightful government.

After the Oct. 20 vote, the country’s first indigenous president declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with former President Carlos Mesa.

But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results raised suspicions among opposition supporters.

Morales had previously refused to accept the results of a referendum upholding term limits for the president.

The country’s constitutional court later ruled that term limits violated his right to run for office, and the electoral court accepted his candidacy for a fourth term.

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Associated Press journalist Paola Flores contributed.

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