Bolivia election audit chief makes surprise resignation

The disputed Bolivian presidential election delivered Evo Morales a fourth term but sparked deadly riots. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2019

Bolivia election audit chief makes surprise resignation

  • Mexican Arturo Espinosa steps down from the role just a day after beginning the review of the controversial poll
  • The vote, which sparked deadly riots, delivered President Evo Morales a fourth term

LA PAZ: The head of an international body auditing Bolivia’s disputed election results resigned unexpectedly on Friday, casting further uncertainty over a vote that sparked deadly riots and delivered President Evo Morales a fourth term.
The chief of the technical mission from the Organization of American States (OAS), Mexican Arturo Espinosa, announced he is stepping down from the role just a day after beginning the review of the controversial poll.
“I have decided to withdraw from the audit so as not to compromise its impartiality. I should have informed the OAS about previous public statements (declarations) about the electoral process in Bolivia,” he wrote in a tweet.
An OAS spokeswoman later confirmed his resignation to AFP.
Espinosa wrote two articles related to Bolivia’s elections for a Mexican news website in the past two weeks, including one — published after the election — which raised doubts over the poll’s transparency.
The 20 October election result, ratified on Friday by Bolivia’s own Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), saw Morales narrowly secure the 10-point gap needed to win outright — but only after an abrupt and unexplained shift in the vote count in his favor.
Opposition candidate Carlos Mesa criticized the TSE’s latest result calculations, saying that they show Morales committed a “fraud” and “an aggression against the good faith of the international community.”
The 66-year-old former president has also refused to take part in the OAS audit, calling instead for the results given by the electoral court (TSE) to be annulled as a precondition of his co-operation.
Riots broke out almost as soon as the election ended and Espinosa’s resignation now threatens to heighten tensions.
Protests erupted in various cities in Bolivia on Friday, especially in the south of the administrative capital La Paz, where roads were cut off and riot police guarded vital crossings.
The extended clashes have seen 191 people detained and 60 police officers injured, said police chief Julio Cordero said on Friday.
But some opposition groups protesting the election now support neither Morales nor Mesa.
Popular assemblies or “Cabildos” held on Thursday in La Paz and the eastern city of Santa Cruz have rejected the OAS audit and demanded new elections.
The council of La Paz has even proclaimed “Neither Mesa, nor Evo Morales!,” in favor of holding new elections without either of the two main candidates who stood on 20 October.
The president said on Friday that Bolivians should wait for the OAS audit report, which should be ready in two weeks.
Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Morales has been in power since 2006.
Already Latin America’s longest-serving leader, Morales is looking to remain in power until 2025 with a fourth term.
The country’s constitution limits a president to two successive terms, and a 2016 referendum rejected a bid by Morales to remove term limits.
But Bolivia’s constitutional court authorized him to stand for a fourth mandate.
The court, like the election tribunal, is made up of members appointed by Morales’s Movement for Socialism.


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.