Bolivia expels Mexican ambassador over asylum dispute


By Daniel Ramos and Diego Oré

LA PAZ/MEXICO CITY, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Bolivia's interim government on Monday asked the Mexican ambassador and several Spanish officials to leave the country, raising the tension over Mexico's decision to grant asylum in its La Paz embassy to nine people including some allies of Bolivia's former socialist president, Evo Morales.

In a statement, Bolivia's conservative caretaker President Jeanine Anez said Mexican ambassador María Teresa Mercado and a number of Spanish government officials were "persona non grata" and asked them to leave within 72 hours.

Mexico's foreign ministry said on Monday it instructed Mercado, who has worked in the foreign service since 1982, to return to Mexico to ensure her safety. It described Bolivia's move as "political in nature".

On Friday, Mexico's government said Bolivian authorities had harassed and intimidated its diplomatic staff and impeded the departure of Spanish officials visiting its embassy in the capital.

A number of allies of Morales holed up in Mexico's embassy in La Paz after the long-term leftist leader resigned under pressure last month and left the country. Some of them are wanted by Bolivia's new caretaker administration.

Anez took over by default after Morales stepped down, and has made sharp policy shifts away from his socialist government, fraying ties with leftist allies in the region.

Anez said the Bolivian government would not tolerate people "trying to cover up and protect criminals who have committed crimes of sedition, armed uprising and terrorism" and that Bolivia would not be a "colony" of any other country.

According to Bolivia's government, a former senior aide to Morales, Juan Ramon Quintana, is among nine people who have taken asylum in the Mexican embassy. Some are wanted by the government for crimes including sedition and armed revolt.

Mexico said last Thursday that it was asking the International Court of Justice to mediate the dispute.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Monica Machicao in La Paz and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by David Gregorio)

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