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Coup attempt in Bolivia, army chief arrested

The head of Bolivia's armed forces was ousted and arrested Wednesday after massing troops and armored vehicles outside the presidential palace in La Paz, saying he wanted to “restructure democracy,” in what President Luis Arce denounced as an attempted coup.

General Juan José Zúñiga was arrested while speaking to the press outside a barracks in the capital, after withdrawing with his troops from Murillo Square, in front of the presidential palace, which they had occupied for several hours.

“You are under arrest, General!” Interior Minister Jhonny Aguilera, who accompanied the police officers, told him, according to images broadcast by public television. The high-ranking officer was taken to the headquarters of a special police unit to be questioned by the prosecutor's office, which accuses him of terrorism and armed uprising.

Before being arrested, General Zúñiga told journalists that he had acted on the orders of President Arce, who allegedly asked him on Sunday to “prepare something” to increase his popularity.

During the day, the general and his men had advanced in close ranks through the streets of La Paz to Murillo Square, where they had positioned eight armored vehicles and fired tear gas at anyone trying to escape. 'approach.

– “Defend democracy” –

Mr. Arce then denounced on the social network X “the irregular movements of certain units of the Bolivian army”. “Democracy must be respected,” said the left-wing head of state.

Coup attempt in Bolivia, army chief arrested

Soldiers deploy in Murillo Square in La Paz, June 26, 2024 © AFP – AIZAR RALDES

According to AFP journalists on site, an armored vehicle attempted to break down a metal door of the Palacio Quemado, the seat of the presidency, where General Zúñiga entered briefly before coming out .

Surrounded by soldiers, the person said that “the armed forces are trying to restructure democracy, to make it a real democracy. Not that of a few, not that of a few masters who have ruled the country for 30 or 40 years” .

From the palace, President Arce dismissed the rebel general and immediately swore in a new command of the armed forces, according to images broadcast live on national television.

“We are facing an attempted coup d'état by soldiers who soil the uniform,” denounced Mr. Arce during the ceremony.

Coup attempt in Bolivia, army chief arrested

Bolivian President Luis Arce greets his supporters from the balcony of his palace in La Paz, June 26, 2024 © AFP – AIZAR RALDES

Former President Evo Morales (2006-2019) also affirmed on X that “a coup d'état is being prepared” and called for “a national mobilization to defend democracy”.

The soldiers withdrew at the beginning of the evening.

Once they had left, Mr. Arce went out onto the balcony of his palace to greet his supporters gathered by the hundreds on the square. “No one can take away the democracy that we have won,” he said.

– 2025 Presidential Election –

Rumors had been circulating since Tuesday that General Zúñiga, in office since November 2022, could be dismissed for having exceeded his duties.

In an interview on Monday with a television channel , he had affirmed that he would arrest Mr. Morales if he persisted in wanting to run for president in 2025 while the Constitutional Court decided in December 2023 that he could not.

“Legally, he is disqualified, he can no longer be president of this country”, declared the general.

The military “are the armed arm of the country and we will defend the Constitution at all costs,” he added.

Coup attempt in Bolivia, army chief arrested

General Juan José Zúñiga during a military ceremony in La Paz, April 18, 2024 © Bolivian Presidency – Handout

Bolivia's ruling party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), is deeply divided between Mr. Arce and Mr. Morales, once allies and now adversaries in the 2025 presidential election.

Evo Morales is seeking the nomination on behalf of the MAS. Luis Arce has not yet made an official candidacy.

Condemnations of General Zúñiga's action on Wednesday have poured in.

The leaders of Chile, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Colombia called for respect for democracy and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wrote on lover of democracy and I hope that it prevails throughout Latin America.”

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro denounced an attempted “coup d'état in Bolivia” orchestrated by “the extreme right with a military traitor”.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned”, and the The United States said it was monitoring the situation “closely” and called for calm, according to a White House spokesperson.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116