SACABA, Bolivia: Bolivian security forces clashed with supporters of former President Evo Morales in a central town Friday, leaving at least five people dead and dozens more injured and escalating the challenge to the country’s interim government to restore stability.
Hospital director Guadalberto Lara told The Associated Press (AP) that most of the dead and injured in the town of Sacaba had bullet wounds. Witnesses said police opened fire on protesters calling for the return of Morales from exile in Mexico.
“It’s very unfortunate,” Lara said, calling it the worst violence he’s seen in his 30-year career. Thousands of largely indigenous protesters, many coca leaf growers, had gathered peacefully in Sacaba in the morning.
But fighting began when many tried to cross a military checkpoint near the city of Cochabamba, where Morales’ supporters and foes have clashed for weeks.
Emeterio Colque Sánchez, a 23-year-old university student, said he saw the bodies of several protesters who had been fatally shot. Sánchez, a protester who spoke from the site of the clashes, said about two-dozen injured people were taken to a hospital.
Another witness, 27-year-old Rocío Rocha Pérez, said she arrived at the Sacaba hospital as ambulances brought the injured. Many people were covered in blood and that the scene was chaotic as medical staff rushed to treat the severely injured, she said.
Morales, who has been granted asylum in Mexico, said on Twitter that a “massacre” had occurred and he described Bolivia’s interim government as a dictatorship.
Bolivia’s Ombudsman’s Office said it regretted the death of five people during the joint police-military operation and called on the interim government to investigate if the security forces had acted within the constitution and international protocols on human rights.
“We express our alarm and concern over the result of an attempt to stop a demonstration by coca leaf growers from entering the city of Cochabamba,” it said.
The ombudsman also demanded a thorough investigation into the reason behind the deaths. “We want to remind the current government that it has said that its transition would seek the pacification of the country,” it said.
“However, today, the Bolivian people must lament five deaths, which add up to the 13 other ones already counted by this institution during this conflict.” AP