Mexico has granted political asylum to Evo Morales, who resigned as Bolivian president on Sunday, saying his life was in danger if he stayed at home amid violent protests for and against his former government.
Mr Morales’s whereabouts remained unclear on Monday amid reports that he had flown to the coca-growing region of El Chapare, his political stronghold.
Protesters with clubs blocked roads and burnt tyres in the capital La Paz and the adjacent city of El Alto, as the country threatened to return to the fissiparous and volatile history that had prevailed until the rise of Mr Morales, a former trade unionist, almost 14 years ago.
“I ask my people with great love and respect to take care of the peace and not to fall into the violence of groups that seek to destroy the rule of law,” Mr Morales tweeted on Monday, shortly after Mexico’s asylum decision.
Marcelo Ebrard, foreign minister in the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said Mr Morales had “verbally and formally” requested asylum in Mexico, which prides itself on a long tradition of offering protection for those fleeing political persecution.
Up to 20 former Bolivian officials and lawmakers from Mr Morales’ MAS party are also holed up at the residence of the Mexican ambassador in La Paz.
It was not immediately clear if or when Mr Morales could arrive in Mexico, however. Mr Ebrard said Mexico would seek legal safe conduct for the former president.
On Monday night military police were preparing to ringfence the airport in El Alto, amid concerns of further unrest. Protesters and vigilantes set up barricades of burning tyres, barbed wire and logs to close access between El Alto and La Paz.
A radical group from the indigenous Aymara community known as the red ponchos said they were marching to La Paz to express their fury at opposition to Mr Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. Meanwhile, the opposition leader Carlos Mesa claimed “a violent gang” was headed towards his house in La Paz “to destroy it”.
A power vacuum had already unleashed a day of violence and looting in both cities, with scuffles on the streets and buses burnt.
Mr Morales stepped down following pressure from the chief of the armed forces and a string of resignations over a contested election against Mr Mesa that led to weeks of protests. Several officials in the line of succession — all from Mr Morales’ socialist MAS party — also resigned.
A senior senator from the opposition Democratic Union party, Jeanine Añez, said she would try to assume the interim presidency with the “only objective of calling for new elections and pacifying the country”.
On Sunday Mr Morales said that a warrant for his arrest had been issued, but the commander of Bolivia’s police force responded in a television interview that there had been no such move.
Mr Morales also said his house in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia, was ransacked by “violent groups” soon after his resignation.
The Organisation of American States issued an urgent call for the Bolivian assembly to meet “to ensure the functioning of institutions and to name new electoral authorities to guarantee a new electoral process”.
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