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Embassy Row

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EXPECT THE WORST

No booze. No cars. No domestic flights. And a rise in crime.

Those are the conditions Americans can expect in Bolivia over the weekend, as Bolivians prepare to vote on the future of controversial President Evo Morales, who is facing a recall referendum on Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy in La Paz warned Americans to avoid demonstrations, even peaceful protests, because they can suddenly turn riotous. Police will be on heightened alert for civil unrest, which means fewer on routine street patrols, creating favorable conditions for pickpockets and other common criminals, the embassy added in an unusually strong warning to U.S. citizens in the South American nation.

The embassy noted that the Bolivian government outlawed the sale of alcoholic beverages until noon Monday.

"No private vehicles or public transportation will be allowed on the road without prior authorization of the Electoral Court" from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday, the embassy said.

"American citizens are reminded that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational between security forces, demonstrators and bystanders and can escalate into violence," it added, urging U.S. citizens to avoid areas where protesters could gather.

"In addition to civil unrest in cities, it is not uncommon for roads between cities to be blocked by protesters or marchers. You could become a target of opportunity."

The embassy also warned Americans to avoid carrying large amounts of cash and leave their credit cards and jewelry at home, if they must venture out during the weekend.

"Criminals can be expected to take advantage of large crowds and use ruse or diversionary tactics to prey on potential street victims," the embassy added.

Mr. Morales himself called for the referendum in May to reassert a mandate he received in the 2005 election. He had been facing strong opposition to his socialist policies, especially from some state governors who are fighting for more autonomy for their regions. Eight of the country's nine governors also agreed to face recall votes Sunday.

Eduardo Paz, a leading Bolivian businessman and opponent of Mr. Morales', told Washington's Hudson Institute last week that he expected Mr. Morales to win the recall, even though a growing number of Bolivians are frustrated with his policies and his close ties to anti-American President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

"Bolivians dislike his confrontational style …," Mr. Paz said. "They are also tired of the Venezuelan influence."

PRAISE FOR HILL

A congressionally chartered human rights panel applauded a top U.S. diplomat for promising to include human rights issues in future talks with North Korea but wants action to back up his words.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, called North Korea's human rights record "abysmal" in testimony last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mr. Hill is the U.S. envoy to talks over North Korea's nuclear program.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom said it "welcomes" Mr. Hill's comments.

"North Korea's unrelenting violations of human rights, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, remain a serious regional security threat," said commission Chairwoman Felice D. Gaer.

"Future negotiations should link progress on other policy concerns with specific and concrete human rights improvements."

After Mr. Hill's testimony, the Senate confirmed career diplomat Kathleen Stephens as the new U.S. ambassador to South Korea.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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