Bolivian president vows early elections

Hastily sworn in, ex-head of Supreme Court takes over amid violent protests

June 11, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LA PAZ, Bolivia - Bolivia's new president, Eduardo Rodriguez, took office yesterday pledging to hold early elections while working with Congress to meet the demands of angry citizens - the nationalization of energy and the drafting of a new constitution to give an Indian majority more rights.

Rodriguez, 49, was the president of the Supreme Court until late Thursday, when Congress chose him to replace the departing president, Carlos Mesa, after a pair of politicians who were first and second in line to the presidency bowed out. The two men recognized that they were seen by a disgruntled people as representing Bolivia's failed ruling class.

Mesa, who resigned after failing to quell potent nationwide protests, pushed for Rodriguez, a Harvard-educated administrator with no political affiliations, to succeed him. Rodriguez's ascension is intended to defuse the furious uprisings that began more than three weeks ago, bringing commerce to a standstill in many cities.

Some protest leaders vowed to press on. "We're not lifting any of the pressure tactics, since our fight is to nationalize hydrocarbons," the head of the country's largest labor confederation, Jaime Solares, said in comments quoted yesterday by La Prensa, a newspaper in La Paz.

Others, such as Evo Morales, an Aymara Indian who heads the influential Movement Toward Socialism party, said Rodriguez would be given time to act.

Calm returned to La Paz, the capital, with roadblocks lifted and shops reopening.

Rodriguez, whose rise to the presidency happened so quickly that he was not presented with the traditional tricolored presidential sash, recognized that new elections must be held, not only for president but for members of Congress. The political class is reviled as corrupt and beholden to special interests.

"One of my attributes, a capacity I have, is to convene an electoral process that would transform and renew citizen representation so this Congress can become more democratic, more just and more fair," Rodriguez said near midnight on Thursday, shortly after being sworn in as president.

Elections, which might take three months to plan, could lead to the first indigenous government in centuries.

Rodriguez's hurried swearing-in ceremony came after a tumultuous day that saw protesters clash with security forces in and around the city of Sucre, which had been chosen as the site of a special session of Congress to accept Mesa's resignation and pick a successor.

That session, though, was canceled late in the day after a 52-year-old miner was shot dead by troops outside Sucre, the first fatality in the recent spate of demonstrations.

Hours later, with Mesa's government warning that Bolivia was on the brink of chaos, the Senate president, Hormando Vaca Dmez, and the House of Delegates president, Mario Cossmo, stood aside and said they did not want to take over the presidency.

Constitutionally, they were next in line to succeed Mesa, but protest leaders had vowed to escalate their demonstrations if either took office.

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