Bolivia’s former president Evo Morales flew to Mexico today after fleeing his South American homeland, seeking refuge under a leftist government that has supported the veteran socialist in the wake of a disputed election.

Bolivia’s first indigenous president came under Mexico’s protection after he departed Bolivia late on Monday on a Mexican Air Force jet, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

“His life and integrity are safe,” Ebrard wrote on Twitter, after warning Morales was in danger and saying Mexico would offer asylum as part of its long tradition of sheltering exiles.

The Mexican government’s support has helped cement its emerging role as a bastion of diplomatic support for left-wing leaders in Latin America.

Morales, who governed for 14 years, said on Twitter he was thankful to Mexico but saddened to leave Bolivia for political reasons, following weeks of violent protests and unrest.

In a photo tweeted by Ebrard, Morales is seated alone on the jet with a downcast, unsmiling expression, displaying Mexico’s red, white and green flag across his lap.

Morales’ government collapsed yesterday after ruling party allies quit and the army urged him to step down, a tactic that Mexico’s government and Mr Morales said was a “coup” because it broke with Bolivia’s constitutional order.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador praised Morales for the decision to resign rather than put the lives of Bolivians at risk.

His departure added to a sense of crisis in Latin America, which has been hit by weeks of unrest in countries such as Ecuador and Chile

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Morales, who was the country’s first indigenous president, boarded a Mexican government plane from the central Bolivian town of Chimore, a stronghold of his supporters where he retreated over the weekend after weeks of protests over a disputed election win loosened his grip on power. In a tweet, he pledged to return with more “strength and energy.”

Military on streets

Ahead of the news of Morales’ departure, the military said it would join Bolivia’s overwhelmed police in patrolling the streets, after protesters destroyed at least four police stations. Armed forces are deployed in the streets of La Paz to quell violence in the aftermath of Mr Morales’ departure.

The departure of Morales, who was part of a wave of leftists who were swept to power in Latin America’s at the start of the century, followed weeks of violent protests over allegations of fraud in the October 21 election.

The 60-year-old former llama herder and coca leaf farmer was viewed by many as a champion of the poor who brought steady economic growth.

His government collapsed after the Organization of American States (OAS), with its headquarters in Washington, delivered a report on irregularities during the October vote. The army then demanded Mr Morales step down.

The audit found “clear manipulation” of the count and “serious security flaws,” which the OAS said meant the result should not stand and new elections should be held.

Handout picture released by the Mexican Foreign Ministry press office showing the Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales leaving Bolivia in an aircraft of the Mexican Air Force.

Handout picture released by the Mexican Foreign Ministry press office showing the Bolivian ex-President Evo Morales leaving Bolivia in an aircraft of the Mexican Air Force. Photo: AFP

Today, thousands of Morales supporters began to march toward La Paz from the nearby city of El Alto. Police in the city encourages residents to attack protesters with sticks and other weapons if warranted.

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Around La Paz’s central Murillo square and other parts of the city, opposition protesters erected roadblocks made of metal scraps and other debris.

“It’s very worrying. There was a lot of fear and panic last night. I think people are similarly if not more scared this evening,” a Western diplomat in the city said, adding that most embassies had been shut with staff working from home.

Legislators, who had been discussing the nuts and bolts of a potential provisional government on Monday in the assembly under heavy police guard, were later evacuated, one lawmaker said.

But by late Tuesday night, it had become clear that the dramatic showdown would not come to pass, as the march dissipated when protesters wended their way downhill into the city centre.

Right-right leaders celebrate

Foes celebrated Morales’ departure but also moved to find a temporary successor.

With Morales’ deputy and many allies in government and parliament gone with him, opposition politician and Senate second vice-president Jeanine Anez flew into La Paz saying she was willing to take control. She was later taken by the military to the legislative assembly.

“If I have the support of those who carried out this movement for freedom and democracy, I will take on the challenge, only to do what’s necessary to call transparent elections,” said Anez, who is constitutionally next in line to assume the presidency.

Morales’ resignation still needs to be approved by the Legislative Assembly, convened by both chambers of Congress.

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Morales says that he is the victim of a conspiracy by enemies, including election right-wing rivals Carlos Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho. “The world and our Bolivian patriots repudiate the coup,” he tweeted.

In a sharp change of tone later in the evening he called on his “people” to be peaceful. “We cannot clash among our Bolivian brothers. I make an urgent call to resolve any differences with dialogue and consultation,” he said.

Coup denounced

Argentine President-elect Alberto Fernandez echoed Morales’ denunciations of a coup, as did Mexico. “It’s a coup because the army requested the resignation of the president, and that violates the constitutional order of that country,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.

In a redrawing of Latin America’s political landscape, the left has regained power in both Mexico and Argentina, though powerhouse Brazil retains a Far Right government and right-wing government in Colombia.

“A great day,” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tweeted, in apparent reference to events in Bolivia.

In Venezuela, opponents of Morales ally Nicolas Maduro also hailed the fall of the Bolivian leader, whom they called a dictator, saying they hoped Maduro would be next.

Further afield, Russia backed Mr Morales, while US President Donald Trump said Morales’ resignation was a “significant moment for democracy” and sent a signal to “illegitimate regimes” in Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The United States also urged Bolivia’s legislative assembly to meet soon to formally accept the Morales resignation.

Bolivia under Morales had one of the region’s strongest economic growth rates and its poverty rate halved, but his determination to cling to power and run for a fourth term prompted protests.

-Reuters