Bolivian president Evo Morales has flown to Mexico after the country granted him political asylum, saying his life was in danger amid violent protests following his resignation on Sunday.
Mr Morales’ whereabouts had been unclear on Monday amid reports that he had taken refuge in the coca-growing region of El Chapare, his political stronghold.
But in a tweet late on Monday as he boarded a Mexican air force plane, Mr Morales said: “Sisters and brothers, I leave for Mexico . . . It hurts to leave the country for political reasons, but I will always be attentive. Soon I will return with more strength and energy.”
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, posted a picture of Mr Morales on the Mexican military plane, holding a Mexican flag. “The Mexican air force plane has taken off with Evo Morales on board. In line with international conventions, he is under Mexico’s protection. His life . . . is safe,” he wrote on Twitter.
Protesters with clubs had earlier blocked roads and burnt tyres in the Bolivian capital of La Paz and the adjacent city of El Alto, as the country threatened to return to the divided and volatile history that had prevailed until the rise of Mr Morales, a former trade unionist, almost 14 years ago.
“I ask my people with great love and respect to take care of the peace and not to fall into the violence of groups that seek to destroy the rule of law,” Mr Morales had tweeted earlier on Monday, shortly after Mexico’s decision to grant him refuge.
Mr Ebrard said Mr Morales had requested asylum.
Up to 20 former Bolivian officials and lawmakers from Mr Morales’ MAS party are also holed up at the residence of the Mexican ambassador in La Paz.
On Monday night, the military had been deployed amid pockets of escalating violence.
A radical group from the indigenous Aymara community known as the red ponchos said they were marching to La Paz to express their fury at opposition to Mr Morales, the country’s first indigenous president. The opposition leader Carlos Mesa claimed “a violent gang” was headed towards his house in the city “to destroy it”.
A power vacuum had already unleashed a day of violence and looting in both cities, with scuffles on the streets and buses burnt.
Mr Morales stepped down following pressure from the chief of the armed forces and a string of resignations over a contested election against Mr Mesa that led to weeks of protests. Several officials in the line of succession — all from Mr Morales’ socialist MAS party — also resigned.
A senior senator from the opposition Democratic Union party, Jeanine Añez, is expected to be sworn in as interim president on Tuesday and to call for fresh elections within 90 days.
On Sunday, Mr Morales said that a warrant for his arrest had been issued, but the commander of Bolivia’s police force responded in a television interview that there had been no such move.
Mr Morales also said his house in Cochabamba, in central Bolivia, was ransacked by “violent groups” after his resignation.
The Organisation of American States issued an urgent call for the Bolivian assembly to meet “to ensure the functioning of institutions and to name new electoral authorities to guarantee a new electoral process”.