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Uncertainty in Bolivia as senator claims interim presidency

Bolivia's second Senate Vice President and opposition politician Jeanine Anez, center, wearing the Presidential sash, addresses the crowd from the balcony of the Quemado palace after she declared herself interim president of the country, in La Paz, Bolivia, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — Bolivians have new uncertainty to grapple with now that opposition Sen. Jeanine Añez declared herself interim president of the crisis-torn Andean country just hours after Evo Morales flew off to self-exile in Mexico.

Questions remained about who might rally around Añez, while Morales’ supporters angrily accused her of trying to seize power in her declaration Tuesday, raising the prospect of more troubles following weeks of clashes over the disputed Oct. 20 presidential election.

Some people took to the streets cheering and waving national flags Tuesday night after Añez claimed the post of Senate leader, the position next in line for the presidency. Furious supporters of Morales responded by trying to force their way to the Congress building in La Paz yelling, “She must quit!”

Añez, a women’s rights activist and former TV presenter, seemed in a tenuous position. She declared herself interim president even though she lacked a quorum in the Senate after Morales’ party boycotted the session, and she wasn’t sworn in by anyone before appearing on a balcony of the old presidential palace wearing the presidential sash.

“My commitment is to return democracy and tranquility to the country,” she said. “They can never again steal our vote.”

Morales resigned Sunday under pressure from Bolivia’s military chief following the weeks of violent protests fed by allegations of electoral fraud in the Oct. 20 election, which he claimed to have won.

Although Añez met with Gen. Williams Kaliman, the armed forces commander, it was uncertain how much support she could count on from other power centers.

Morales resigned shortly after an Organization of American States audit reported widespread irregularities in the vote count. Bolivia’s first indigenous president arrived in Mexico on Tuesday under a grant of asylum. But his resignation still needed to be approved by both houses of Congress, and lawmakers could not assemble the numbers needed for formal sessions.

Añez forged ahead anyway, arguing that Bolivia could not wait and be left in a power vacuum. After Morales quit, resignations by allies left vacancies in the only posts listed by the constitution as presidential successors — the vice president, the head of the Senate and the leader of the lower house.

Añez was a second-tier opposition figure until Morales, Latin America’s longest serving leader resigned after nearly 14 years in power.

She immediately tried to set differences with the socialist leader.

She greeted supporters at an old palace instead of the nearby modern 26-story presidential palace with a heliport that was built by Morales and that his foes had criticized as one of his excesses.

She also carried a Bible, which had been banned by Morales from the presidential palace after he reformed the constitution and recognized the Andean earth deity Pachamama instead of the Roman Catholic Church.