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Bolivian leader calls for new elections amid protests, fraud allegations

The Organization of American States (OAS) released a report Sunday saying that President Evo Morales' disputed Oct. 20 win should be annulled.

LA PAZ — Bolivian President Evo Morales agreed Sunday to hold new elections after a damning international report found serious irregularities in an Oct. 20 vote won by the leftist leader.

Morales' victory last month sparked widespread protests around the country.

The Organization of American States (OAS) issued a report earlier Sunday that said the October vote should be annulled after it had found "clear manipulations" of the voting system that meant it could not verify the result.

Morales, speaking at a press conference in the capital La Paz, also said he would replace the country's electoral body. The department has come under heavy criticism after an unexplained halt to the vote count sparked widespread allegations of fraud and prompted the OAS audit.

The weekslong standoff over the disputed election escalated over the weekend as police forces were seen joining anti-government protests and the military said it would not "confront the people" over the issue.

"The manipulations to the computer systems are of such magnitude that they must be deeply investigated by the Bolivian State to get to the bottom of and assign responsibility in this serious case," the preliminary OAS report said.

"The first round of the elections held on October 20 must be annulled and the electoral process must begin again," the OAS added in a separate statement.

Image: Bolivia's President Evo Morales addresses the media at the presidential hangar in the Bolivian Air Force terminal in El Alto
Morales addressed the media Sunday.CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS / Reuters

Morales was declared the winner of the October election with a lead of just over 10 points over his rival Carlos Mesa, giving him an outright win.

The OAS added that it was statistically "unlikely" that Morales had secured the 10 percentage point margin of victory needed to avoid a riskier second round run-off.

Morales, who came to power in 2006 as Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, has defended his victory but said he would adhere to the findings of the OAS audit.

The protests erupted afterward, particularly because of a nearly 24-hour halt during the vote count.

Morales and his government have decried a "coup" against him by what they called "violent groups," prompting a number of fellow leftist leaders in the region, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, to rally around him and call for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Morales' opponents, including Mesa and Luis Fernando Camacho, a civic leader from the eastern city of Santa Cruz who has become a symbol of the opposition, have repeatedly called for him to step down.

Camacho said he plans to march to the government palace with a pre-written resignation letter for Morales to sign.