Bolivians block roads in protest as Morales election win splits nation

People demonstrate during a general strike in la Paz, Bolivia on October 25, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 October 2019

Bolivians block roads in protest as Morales election win splits nation

  • Anti-government protests had begun on Sunday, when an official vote count was suspended for almost a day
  • Roads in the north and south of La Paz were blocked by protesters, with normally busy streets empty of cars

LA PAZ: Bolivians blocked streets in La Paz on Friday demanding an audit of a controversial election count that handed President Evo Morales a outright win and with it a fourth consecutive term that would extend his rule to nearly two decades.
Morales, 59, who swept to power in 2006 as the country’s first indigenous leader, claimed victory in the Sunday vote and railed against the opposition who he accused of leading a coup d’etat with foreign backing.
Anti-government protests had begun on Sunday, when an official vote count was suspended for almost a day. A confident Morales said then his socialist party MAS would get an outright win, despite an official rapid count data showing the left-wing leader heading to a second round against rival Carlos Mesa.
The final official count showed Morales with an over 10-point over Mesa on Thursday night, which meant he would avoid a risky second round head-to-head — even as the election monitors, the opposition and foreign governments criticized the count.
On Friday, roads in the north and south of La Paz were blocked by protesters, with normally busy streets empty of cars. In the morning, there were few signs of violence, as people marched with banners saying “No to dictatorship.”
The official election observer, the Organization of American States, has already called for a second round despite Morales’ 10-point win, while the United States, European Union, Brazil and others adding their voice.
In the region, left-leaning governments in Mexico and Venezuela have backed Morales, a former union leader for coca farmers who has overseen steady growth and relative stability in one of South America’s poorest countries.
“There has to be a second round,” Marco Antonio Fuentes, a departmental official in La Paz, said Friday. “The electoral arbitrator is unfortunately not reliable,” referring to the vote count halt that saw one senior electoral official resign.
Mesa, a former president who leads the Citizen Community party, has claimed to have evidence of electoral fraud. “The government is despising the popular vote,” he told local television channel Unitel on Friday.
The vote count, with 99.99% of the votes counted, showed Morales with 47.07% of the vote to Mesa’s 36.51%.
Officials and diplomats raised concerns the conflict could hit Bolivia’s ties with global trade partners and an economy that is already straining under declining gas exports.
Jaime Duran, a fiscal and budgetary deputy minister, said in comments to the Red Uno channel that the conflict in recent days “will undoubtedly” have an effect on the economy, though reassured there no issues with supplies of fuel and food.


Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

Updated 30 October 2020

Two accomplices in Kenya’s Westgate attack jailed for 33 and 18 years

  • Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants
  • The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital

NAIROBI: A Kenyan court Friday handed prison terms of 33 and 18 years respectively to two men accused of conspiring with the Al-Shabab extremists who attacked Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, killing 67 people.

Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa, both 31, were found guilty on October 7 of conspiring with and supporting the four assailants from the Somalia-based extremist group who died in what was then Kenya’s worst terrorist attack in 15 years.

The accused asked the judge for leniency, saying they had already served seven years behind bars and had family to care for.

“Despite mitigation by their defense lawyers on their innocence, the offense committed was serious, devastating, destructive, that called for a punishment by the court,” Chief Magistrate Francis Andayi told a Nairobi courtroom.

He sentenced the men to 18 years for conspiracy and 18 for supporting extremists, but ordered they serve both terms together. Abdi was also given an additional 15 years for two counts of possessing extremist propaganda material on his laptop.

He will serve 26 years and Mustafa 11, taking into account their pre-trial detention.

The convicted men were in regular contact with the attackers who at midday on September 21, 2013, stormed the upscale Westgate mall in the Kenyan capital and began throwing grenades and firing indiscriminately on shoppers and business owners.

A four-day siege ensued — much of it broadcast live on television — during which Kenyan security forces tried to flush out the gunmen and take back the high-end retail complex.

Although there was no specific evidence Abdi and Mustafa had provided material help, the court was satisfied their communication with the attackers amounted to supporting the armed rampage, and justified the guilty verdict for conspiracy.

The marathon trial began in January 2014. A third accused was acquitted of all charges.
The Westgate attack was claimed by Al-Shabab in retaliation for Kenya intervening military over the border in Somalia, where the extremist group was waging a bloody insurgency against the fragile central government.

Kenya is a major contributor of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which in 2011 drove Al-Shabab out of Mogadishu and other urban strongholds after a months-long offensive.

In a car the attackers drove to Westgate, police found evidence of newly-activated SIM cards used by the gunmen. Their communications were traced, including calls to Mohamed Ahmed Abdi and Hassan Hussein Mustafa.

A fourth defendant, Adan Mohammed Abdikadir, was acquitted in early 2019 for lack of evidence.

The Westgate attack was the deadliest incident of violent extremism on Kenyan soil since the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, which killed 213 people.

But since the assault on the shopping complex, Al-Shabab has perpetrated further atrocities in Kenya against civilian targets.

In April 2015, gunmen entered Garissa University and killed 148 people, almost all of them students. Many were shot point blank after being identified as Christians.

In January 2019, the militants struck Nairobi again, hitting the Dusit Hotel and surrounding offices and killing 21 people.

Al-Shabab warned in a January statement that Kenya “will never be safe” as long as its troops were stationed in Somalia, and threatened further attacks on tourists and US interests.

That same month, Al-Shabab attacked a US military base in northeast Kenya in a cross-border raid, killing three Americans and destroying a number of aircraft.