Police abandon posts outside Bolivia’s presidential palace

Police officers, who have joined a rebellion, take part in a march to protest against Bolivian President Evo Morales in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 10 November 2019

Police abandon posts outside Bolivia’s presidential palace

  • Officers climbed onto the roof of a nearby police station holding Bolivian flags and signs proclaiming “The Police with the People”
  • The president urged police to “preserve the security” of Bolivia

LA PAZ, Bolivia: Police guards outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandoned their posts Saturday, increasing pressure on President Evo Morales as he seeks to curb nationwide unrest after a disputed election.

Officers also climbed onto the roof of a nearby police station holding Bolivian flags and signs proclaiming “The Police with the People.” Police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities, and there were reports that some in two cities were openly declaring mutinies.

The president, who was not at the palace at the time and appeared later at a military airfield outside La Paz, urged police to “preserve the security” of Bolivia and obey the rules.

Growing dissension in police ranks posed a new threat to Morales, who claimed victory after the Oct. 20 vote but has since faced protests in which three people have been killed and hundreds injured. Opponents contend the results were manipulated.

Morales faces “the most complicated moment” in his 14 years in power and the situation could deteriorate, said Jorge Dulón, a political analyst at the Catholic University of Bolivia in La Paz.

Police units in some cities started protesting Friday, marching in the streets in uniform as anti-government protesters cheered them from the sidewalks.

Defense Minister Javier Zabaleta initially played down the police protests, saying a “police mutiny occurred in a few regions.”

Gen. Williams Kaliman, the military chief, said Saturday that the military had no plans to intervene.

“We’ll never confront the people among whom we live. We guarantee peaceful co-existence,” Kaliman said. “This is a political problem and it should be resolved within that realm.”

A list of demands from dissident police officers included better working conditions, the resignation of their commander and guarantees that they won’t be used as a political “instrument of any government.”

The spectacle of police leaving their positions outside the presidential palace was an ominous development for Morales.

At a news conference at the military base, Morales appealed to Bolivia’s political factions to hold talks. He said the four parties that received the most votes in the nine-candidate election should sit down with “an open agenda to pacify Bolivia.”

Carlos Mesa, the main opposition leader and a former president who finished second in the Oct. 20 vote, promptly rejected the suggestion.

“I have nothing to negotiate with Evo Morales, who has lost all grip on reality,” Mesa said.

Another opposition leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, said the president “is looking for exits, when people demand his resignation and call for new elections.”

While appealing for dialogue, Morales has also accused his opponents of trying to overthrow Bolivia’s rightful government.

The Organization of American States is conducting an audit of the election count. Findings are expected Monday or Tuesday. The opposition, which has alleged vote-rigging, says it will not accept the results because they were not consulted about the audit plan.

The European Union issued a statement Saturday calling for demonstrators to remain peaceful, saying a solution “can be achieved through peaceful negotiations.”

US Undersecretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak echoed that view on Twitter: “Bolivian citizens deserve credible and transparent elections that they can trust to represent their will. We urge all actors to avoid violence and ensure that the forces of public order continue to exercise restraint.”

In the city of Santa Cruz, a stronghold for anti-Morales sentiment, hundreds of opposition supporters marched along with police mutineers.
“We do not want to be indifferent. The police are joining their people,” one officer said.

On the outskirts of La Paz, groups of pro- and anti-Morales activists clashed at a roadblock seeking to keep the president’s opponents out of the capital. More than 30 injuries were reported.

Various groups also marched through the city center, while a crowd gathered outside the Bolivia state television station and radio Patria Nueva accusing employees of lying to defend the government.

After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with Mesa.

But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results raised suspicions among opposition supporters that there had been fraud.

Morales ran seeking re-election to a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. The country’s constitutional court then ruled term limits violated his right to run for office.


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.