The United Nations has warned that violence in Bolivia could "spin out of control" after recent clashes between security forces and coca farmers loyal to outgoing President Evo Morales that left nine people dead, Reuters reported on November 17th.
Morales resigned under pressure from Bolivia's police and army on Sunday after evidence of fraud emerged in the October 20th election. Morales fled to Mexico two days after he resigned.
A former coca farmer and charismatic leftist leader, Morales described his forced resignation as a coup.
“Coup leaders are killing indigenous people and ordinary people for demanding democracy,” Morales said on Twitter after reports of a rising death toll. Bolivia's interim president, Jenin Agnès, blamed Morales for stirring up violence from abroad and said her government wanted to hold elections and meet the opposition to stop the protests.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet warned that the escalation of violence could undermine the democratic process.
"I am concerned that the situation in Bolivia could spin out of control if the authorities do not handle it... with full respect for human rights," Bachelet said in a statement.
Violence in Bolivia adds to growing unrest in the region, including in neighbouring Chile, where protests over social inequality have turned into riots that left at least 20 dead. Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina have also seen widespread strikes, protests and riots in recent months.
Investigator Nelson Cox from the city of Cochabamba said hospital records in the area showed "the vast majority" of Friday's deaths and injuries were caused by gunshot wounds. He described the reaction of the security forces to what happened in the region as a "repression.”
"We are working with the ombudsman's office to conduct autopsies, determine the cause of death and bring justice," he told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.
He said more than 100 people had been wounded in the clashes.
In some protests, coca farmers were also heavily armed and carrying weapons ranging from pistols, bomb boxes and homemade bazookas, police said.
UN envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups from Sunday, to end the violence and push for "free and transparent elections." Although the capital, La Paz, was largely quiet on Saturday, road blockades caused panic among residents, many of whom rushed to stock up on groceries as supplies ran low and prices increased.
The growing unrest and rising death toll have prompted Morales to use a more conciliatory tone with the Agnès government.