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Bolivia braces for general strike after vote chaos

Bolivia braces for general strike after vote chaos

La Paz: Bolivia braced for a general strike on Tuesday hours after violence broke out in several cities when the main opposition candidate rejected presidential election results that seemed set to hand a controversial victory to long-time incumbent Evo Morales.

Opposition supporters reacted with fury, torching electoral offices in the southwestern cities of Sucre and Potosi, while rival supporters clashed in the capital La Paz.

Incidents were reported in cities across the South American country.

Carlos Mesa, who came a close second to Morales in Sunday's polls -- forcing a run-off, according to preliminary results -- denounced revised results released by election authorities as a "fraud."

"We are not going to recognize those results that are part of a shameful, consumated fraud, that is putting Bolivian society in a situation of unnecessary tension," said Mesa.

International monitors from the Organization of American States voiced "deep concern" at sudden changes to the election count to show Morales closing in on an outright victory in the first round.

Preliminary results released late Sunday showed neither Morales, 59, nor 66-year-old Mesa with a majority and "clearly indicated a second round," the OAS mission said.

The partial results put Morales in the lead with 45 percent of the votes, with Mesa on 38 percent, meaning Morales would have to contest a run-off for the first time.

But results released late Monday, after a long and unexplained delay, showed Morales edging towards an outright victory with 95 percent of the votes counted.

Mesa, a former president of the country between 2001-2005, accused Morales of colluding with the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to tweak delayed results and avoid a run-off.

The call for a general strike was issued by Fernando Camacho, head of an influential civil society organization in Bolivia's biggest city, Santa Cruz, where transport and businesses were expected to shut down from noon.

"Tomorrow we start at 12:00 to block this country," Camacho told opposition demonstrators late Monday, before holding talks with leaders from other regions.

Long lines formed at gas stations amid fears of shortages.

Riot-police dispersed a crowd who tried to storm the electoral offices in the Andean city of Oruro, south of La Paz.

Clashes were also reported in Tarija in the south, Cochabamba in the center and Cobija in the north.

The United States' top diplomat for Latin America said the Electoral Tribunal was attempting "to subvert Bolivia's democracy by delaying the vote count and taking actions that undermine the credibility of Bolivia's elections."

"We call on the TSE to immediately act to restore credibility in the vote counting process," the official, Michael Kozak, said on Twitter. Agencies

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