Bolivian Prez Calls for New Elections

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) -- Bolivian President Evo Morales called for new elections on Sunday following nationwide protests over a disputed vote that he claimed he had won.

Morales made the announcement after a preliminary report by the Organization of American States found irregularities in the Oct. 20 presidential elections.

Morales did not mention the OAS report. He called on all political parties and all sectors to help bring peace to the Andean nation after protests in which three people have been killed.

"We all have to pacify Bolivia," Morales told reporters.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis urged Bolivians, including its politicians, to calmly await the outcome of a disputed election review. The Argentine-born pope on Sunday told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square that he was entrusting to their prayers "the situation of beloved Bolivia."

After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with opposition leader Carlos Mesa. But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results raised suspicions among opposition supporters that there had been fraud.

The OAS sent a 30-person team to launch a "binding" audit of the presidential election. The OAS preliminary recommendations included holding new elections with a new electoral tribunal.

"The process was hard-fought and the security standards have not been respected," the OAS said in a statement released by its president, Luis Almagro, on Twitter.

"Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it's not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results," it said, adding that the conclusions of the preliminary report are binding.

Pressure increased on Morales on Saturday when police guards outside Bolivia's presidential palace abandoned their posts. Officers also climbed onto the roof of a nearby police station holding national flags and signs proclaiming "The Police with the People." Police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities, and there were reports that some in two cities were openly declaring mutinies.

Morales, who was not at the palace at the time and appeared later at a military airfield outside La Paz, urged police to "preserve the security" of Bolivia and obey the rules.

Growing dissension in police ranks posed a new threat to Morales, who is facing the toughest moment in his 14 years in power, and who has often said the opposition is trying to stage a coup. Opponents contend the results were manipulated.

Bolivia's Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta initially played down the police protests, saying a "police mutiny occurred in a few regions," while Gen. Williams Kaliman, the military chief, said Saturday that the military had no plans to intervene.

(KR)