A number of police units in Bolivia’s main city La Paz mutinied and joined anti-government protests on Saturday, presenting a serious new threat to attempts by President Evo Morales to hold on to power after last month’s disputed elections.
Local media reported that the mutinies had spread to at least four other cities and state television broadcast images of police marching with protesters in at least one of those other major cities.
The government has so far not confronted the spreading police rebellion, attempting instead to minimize its scale and importance. On Friday, the country’s defense minister said the Armed Forces will remain in their barracks and no military action will be taken against the mutinied policeman.
On Saturday, uniformed police mixed with anti-government protesters outside the Presidential Palace inLa Paz. Some police guards have abandoned their posts at several ministerial buildings.
Bolivia erupted in violent protests after Mr. Morales claimed to have won an unprecedented fourth term in office last month, despite concerns from electoral observers over the validity of the results. The head of the vote auditing company contracted by the Bolivian government said Friday that the ballot counting process presented serious irregularities which prevented him from certifying the results.
The mutinies marked an escalation of Bolivia’s postelection unrest, which so far has claimed the lives of three people. Protesters have clashed with security forces across the country and burned public buildings.
A pro-government mayor in a small city in central Bolivia was kidnapped and marched through the streets barefoot and drenched with red paint in the past week.
The opposition claims the vote on October 20 was rigged. When initial vote tallies showed Mr. Morales had to face an uncertain second round of elections, the ballot count suddenly stopped.
Election officials didn’t provide updates for nearly 24 hours without giving an explanation. When the results were finally updated, the initial trends were reversed, giving Mr. Morales just enough of a lead to avoid a runoff and spurring the opposition to take to the streets.