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Police Open Fire On Protesters In Bolivia

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There's been more violence this weekend in Bolivia.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTS)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Weeks of protests forced its president, Evo Morales, to step down a week ago. He's an exile in Mexico. Now there are mass protests calling for him to return. Police in central Bolivia opened fire on a crowd of protesting cocaleros, coca farmers who are a key part of Morales' political base. At least eight people were killed, dozens more injured. And NPR's Philip Reeves is in the capital, La Paz, and he joins me now. Welcome.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So let's hear about the scene there and that deadly protest in particular. What happened?

REEVES: Well, the scene is tense, and it's angry, and it's fearful. Morales still has a sizable number of fiercely loyal supporters, especially amongst the indigenous population. And that shooting of the farmers in Cochabamba, which is in central Bolivia, caused real outrage. It's causing real outrage. Morales himself has called it a massacre. It's igniting more protests in support of his return. Military have used jets to buzz crowds of protesters. And they've also started firing tear gas into peaceful crowds. In the midst of all of this, you've got concerns now here in La Paz about shortages of fuel and food and medicines, partly because there's so many barricades around the city that supplies can't be delivered and shops, of course, most of them are shuttered.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Morales was forced out after evidence of fraud surfaced in last month's election. There's currently an interim government. Is that government capable of handling this? Are they in control or is the military in control? What's going on?

REEVES: Well, it's really struggling to establish its legitimacy. The interim president is Jeanine Anez. She's a conservative. She was a senator. She has got a dialogue going with some in the Socialist Party of Evo Morales. But she has a big credibility problem. I mean, she faces allegations that she bent the rules in the manner in which she self-proclaimed herself president. And she's also supposed to be in the role of a caretaker, a kind of neutral government that's guiding Bolivia towards elections. But she's severed relations with Nicolas Maduro's government in Venezuela. She's kicked out hundreds of Cuban doctors. So they are going beyond the line of neutrality.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: There are supposed to be new elections - right? - in three months. Is that going to be possible, do you think, with all this going on?

REEVES: It's going to be very hard for them, and it really is dependent on whether they can establish a secure foothold. They certainly haven't done that yet. Firstly, the new interim president has to calm down the violence. That's going to be very difficult. She's got to appoint a new electoral authority. Both houses of Congress, remember, are controlled by Morales' Socialist Party. And meanwhile, Morales is still out there engaging in this. I mean, he's putting out tweets that, on one hand, support dialogue and, on the other hand, rally support against what he describes as a coup against him. So it's very hard to see a clear path out of this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, Philip, just briefly, what are people telling you?

REEVES: Well, you know, people are very worried. I mean, it's very polarized. Violence and fear are making things worse. It's really not clear if the army and the police have the capacity to cope. And I'm starting to hear people on the streets shouting slogans calling for civil war. So we have a very dangerous situation here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in La Paz. Philip, thank you so much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.

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