Bolivian general arrested after failed coup attempt

June 28: Led by a top general vowing to “restore democracy,” armored vehicles rammed the doors of Bolivia’s government palace Wednesday in what the president called a coup attempt, then quickly retreated — the latest crisis in the South American country facing a political battle and an economic crisis.

Within hours, the nation of 12 million people saw a rapidly moving scenario in which the troops seemed to take control of the government of President Luis Arce. He vowed to stand firm and named a new army commander, who immediately ordered the troops to stand down.

Soon the soldiers pulled back, along with a line of military vehicles, ending the rebellion after just three hours. Hundreds of Arce’s supporters then rushed the square outside the palace, waving Bolivian flags, singing the national anthem and cheering.

The soldiers’ retreat was followed by the arrest of army chief Gen. Juan José Zúñiga, after the attorney general opened an investigation.

Government Minister Eduardo del Castillo said that in addition to Zúñiga, former navy Vice Adm. Juan Arnez Salvador was taken into custody.

“What was this group’s goal? The goal was to overturn the democratically elected authority,” del Castillo told journalists in announcing the arrests.

Late Wednesday, Defense Minister Edmundo Novillo said “everything is now under control.” Surrounded by the new military chiefs appointed by Arce, Novillo said that Bolivia lived a “failed coup.”

The apparent coup attempt came as the country has faced months of tensions and political fights between Arce and his one-time ally, former leftist president Evo Morales, over control of the ruling party. It also came amid a severe economic crisis.

The clashes have paralyzed the government’s efforts to deal with the economic crisis. For example, Morales’ allies in Congress have consistently thwarted Arce’s attempts to take on debt to relieve some of the pressure.

Zúñiga referenced that paralysis during the rebellion, telling reporters the military was tired of the infighting and was seeking “to restore democracy.”

“We are listening to the cry of the people because for many years an elite has taken control of the country,” he said, adding that politicians are “destroying the country: look at what situation we are in, what crisis they have left us in.”

“The armed forces intend to restore the democracy, to make it a true democracy,” he said. The rapidly unfolding crisis began in the early afternoon as the streets of La Paz started filling with soldiers. Arce tweeted that the troops deployment was irregular and soon he and other political figures warned of an attempted coup.

Still, the apparent attempt to depose the sitting president seemed to lack any meaningful support, and even Arce’s rivals closed ranks to defend democracy and repudiate the uprising.

In a twist, Zúñiga claimed in comments to journalists before his arrest that Arce himself told the general to storm the palace in a political move. “The president told me: ‘The situation is very screwed up, very critical.  (AP)

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