- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

LA PAZ, Bolivia — With angry protesters filling the streets, the Congress last night canceled an emergency meeting that had been intended to choose a new president.

The thousands of miners, Indians and union members who poured into La Paz ahead of the vote represented the largest public outcry against the government since President Carlos Mesa tendered his resignation at the beginning of the week.

Mr. Mesa stepped down after a month of protests, saying he was no longer able to lead the fractured country.

The protests illustrate the deep ethnic and economic divide between the haves and have-nots in Bolivia. Though two-thirds of its 9 million people consider themselves of indigenous descent, most of the nation’s wealth is concentrated in the hands of those descended from Spaniards.

“We want another government; we want elections so we can finally have a government that will defend everyone in our country,” said Willi Quinteros, a union leader.

Protesters also are calling for a new constitution to give the Indians more representation in the government. They also are condemning a call by eastern gas-rich provinces to become more autonomous.

The Congress had planned to meet in an emergency session to decide whether to accept Mr. Mesa’s resignation and appoint a new leader. The session was moved from La Paz to Sucre in hopes of avoiding the angry masses in the capital.

But the demonstrations followed the leaders, as did the violence. A protester reportedly was killed in Sucre in a clash between miners and riot police, prompting lawmakers to cancel the meeting. The lawmakers have not announced when they will meet.

If they accept Mr. Mesa’s resignation as many expect, the next in line to assume the presidency is Senate President Hormando Vaca Diez.

But the president has asked Mr. Vaca Diez to refuse the post for the good of the country and back his call for fresh elections. The senator is particularly unpopular with the protesters, who see him as another product of the Mesa administration.

“If Vaca become president, there will be civil war,” chanted protesters waving multicolored flags and igniting sticks of dynamite in front of Bolivia’s Central Bank.

Mr. Mesa warned the nation in a nationally televised address this week that the protests could result in civil war.

The only decision by lawmakers that would seem to appease the protesters is Mr. Mesa’s suggestion for elections in the next 90 days, though by law, only the Supreme Court can order them.

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