Bolivian lawmakers, seeking to calm tensions, cancel vote on Morales
By Daniel Ramos
LA PAZ, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Bolivia's congress, controlled by lawmakers loyal to unseated leader Evo Morales, said on Tuesday it would cancel a contentious vote in the legislature that was expected to reject the leftist leader's resignation.
That could help defuse tensions as Morales supporters ramp up protests in the streets of La Paz and elsewhere. Mounting violence in the South American nation has seen around 20 people killed since Morales stepped down under pressure earlier this month.
The vote would be suspended "to create and contribute to an environment conducive to dialogue and peace," the Legislative Assembly said in a statement.
A meeting ahead of the vote, originally planned for 6.30pm (2230 GMT) on Tuesday, had been scheduled to discuss plans for new elections as well as the resignation of Morales, who is currently in Mexico, where he sought asylum.
Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS) party holds a majority in the congress and could have voted to reject his resignation, potentially creating dueling claims on the country's leadership and raising pressure on caretaker President Jeanine Anez.
Morales has railed at what he has called a right-wing coup against him and hinted he could return to the country from Mexico, though he has pledged repeatedly not to run again in a new election the interim government is seeking to hold.
The long-standing leader resigned on Nov. 10 amid rising pressure over vote-rigging allegations after an international audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) found serious irregularities in the Oct. 20 election.
His supporters have ramped up protests against Anez, calling for her to step down and for Morales to return. Nine coca farmers were killed last week in clashes with security forces at pro-Morales protests.
DESPERATE TO BUY
Bolivians are feeling the pinch of the turmoil, with fuel shortages mounting and grocery stores short of basic goods as supporters of Morales blockade key transport routes.
In the highland capital La Paz, roads have grown quiet as people preserve gasoline, with long queues for food staples. People lined up with gas canisters next to the blockaded Senkata fuel plant in nearby El Alto on Tuesday.
Images showed some fuel trucks apparently passing the blockade with a strong military and police presence.
"Unfortunately this has been going on for three to four weeks, so people are desperate to buy everything they find," said Ema Lopez, 81, a retiree in La Paz.
Daniel Castro, a 63-year-old worker in the city, blamed Morales for what he called "food terrorism."
"This is chaos and you're seeing this chaos in (La Paz's) Plaza Villarroel with more than 5,000 people just there to get a chicken," he said.
The country's hydrocarbons minister, Victor Hugo Zamora, said on Tuesday he was looking to unlock fuel deliveries for La Paz and called on the pro-Morales movements to join talks and allow economic activity to resume.
(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Miguel Lo Bianco; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Alex Richardson and Rosalba O'Brien)
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