LA PAZ - Bolivian capital La Paz braced for violent clashes on Monday night as thousands of supporters of ousted leader Evo Morales marched towards the city where opposition protesters and police set up barricades and armed themselves for a potential showdown.
Police said the crowd was marching down from the nearby city of El Alto, even as Morales was granted asylum by Mexico, who demanded the leftist leader be granted safe passage to leave Bolivia.
Around the central Murillo square and other parts of the city, opposition protesters erected roadblocks made of metal scraps and other debris, as tension mounted following Morales’ resignation on Sunday in the wake of a disputed election.
Police officers in the unit charged with protecting the city’s legislative assembly, said they were expecting a serious confrontation. One said they would use live ammunition and the police chief said on TV he was seeking military support.
“It’s very worrying. There was a lot of fear and panic last night. I think people are similarly if not more scared this evening,” a Western diplomat in the city said, adding that most embassies had been shut with staff working from home.
“The danger is a bit indiscriminate. So people can easily get caught up in something.”
Legislators, who had been discussing the nuts and bolts of a potential provisional government on Monday in the assembly under heavy police guard, were later evacuated, one lawmaker said.
The departure of Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president and part of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin America’s politics at the start of the century, followed weeks of violent protests over allegations of fraud in the Oct. 20 election.