Evo Morales steps down after urging by military chief General Williams Kaliman and weeks of protests over his disputed election he had claimed to win.

Bolivian President Evo Morales' resignation came after agreeing earlier in the day to hold a new election.
Bolivian President Evo Morales' resignation came after agreeing earlier in the day to hold a new election. (AFP)

Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his resignation on Sunday, caving in following three weeks of sometimes-violent protests over his disputed re-election after the army and police withdrew their backing.

"I resign my post as president," Morales said in a televised address, capping a day of fast-moving events in which several ministers and senior officials quit as support for Latin America's longest-serving president crumbled.

"I resign my presidency. Why did I decide to resign? So that [opposition leader Carlos] Mesa and [protest leader Luis Fernando] Camacho do not continue to persecute my brothers, union leaders."

His resignation came after the commander of Bolivia's armed forces General Williams Kaliman called on the embattled leader to resign.

"After analysing the conflicted domestic situation, we ask the president to resign his presidential mandate to allow for pacification and the maintaining of stability, for the good of our Bolivia," Kaliman told reporters.

Speaking on national television, Kaliman also appealed to Bolivians to desist from violence.

He stepped in after Morales agreed earlier in the day to hold a new election.

Cuba condemns Bolivia 'coup' 

Cuba strongly condemned what it called a 'coup' in Bolivia after the long-time president resigned.

Cuba "expresses solidarity with its brother president Evo Morales," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet, adding that Morales was "a protagonist and a symbol of the rights of the indigenous peoples of our Americas."

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro condemned a "coup d'etat".

"We categorically condemn the coup d'Etat against our brother president," the socialist Maduro said on Twitter, calling for a mobilisation of political and social movements "to demand the preservation of the life of the Bolivian native peoples, victims of racism."

Mexico offers asylum to Morales

Mexico on Sunday said it was offering asylum to Morales after 20 government officials and lawmakers had sought refuge at its embassy in La Paz.

"Mexico, in accordance with its tradition of asylum and non-intervention, has received 20 personalities from the Bolivian executive and legislature in the official residence in La Paz, so we would also offer asylum to Evo Morales," Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

Morales' claim to have won a fourth term last month has triggered fraud allegations, deadly protests and a split among security forces.

South America's longest-serving leader made the election announcement after a preliminary report by the Organisation of American States [OAS] found a "heap of observed irregularities" in the October 20 presidential contest and recommended a new election.

Without mentioning the OAS report, Morales said he would replace the country's electoral body and urged all political parties and all sectors to help bring peace to the Andean nation after protests in which three people have been killed and hundreds injured.

"We all have to pacify Bolivia," he told reporters.

We spoke with journalist Monica Yanakiew has more. 

Fairy-tale rise

Morales, 60, a native Aymara from Bolivia's highlands, became the country's first indigenous president in 2006 and easily won two more elections amid a commodities-fed economic boom in South America's poorest country. 

He paved roads, sent Bolivia's first satellite into space and curbed inflation.

But many who were once excited by his fairy-tale rise have grown wary of his reluctance to leave power. He ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president.

Bolivia's constitutional court then ruled term limits violated his rights.

After the October 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa. 

But a 24-hour lapse in releasing vote results raised suspicions among the opposition of fraud.

Mesa said on Sunday that the OAS report showed "monstrous fraud."

"Morales can't be a candidate in new elections," said Mesa, a 66-year-old historian, who stepped down as president in 2005 amid an outbreak of demonstrations led by Morales, then the leader of a coca growers union.

We spoke with Latin America analyst, Javier Farje, for more.

Binding audit of election

Also on Sunday, Bolivian protest leader Camacho called on Morales to resign after the OAS report. 

Camacho, a civic leader who has become a symbol of the opposition, said the OAS findings, which were released in the report earlier, clearly demonstrate election fraud.

The OAS sent a 30-person team to conduct what it called a binding audit of the election. Its preliminary recommendations included holding new elections with a new electoral tribunal.

"The process was hard-fought and the security standards have not been respected," the OAS said in a statement released by its president, Luis Almagro, on Twitter.

"Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it's not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results."

Dissension in police

Pressure increased on Morales on Saturday when police guards outside Bolivia's presidential palace abandoned their posts. 

Officers also climbed onto the roof of a nearby police station holding national flags and signs proclaiming, "The Police with the People." 

Police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities.

Morales, 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.

The dissension in police ranks posed a new threat to Morales, who is facing the toughest moment in his nearly 14 years in power, and who has often said the opposition is trying to stage a coup.

Bolivia's Defence Minister Javier Zabaleta played down the police protests, saying a "police mutiny occurred in a few regions," while General Williams Kaliman, the military chief, said Saturday that the armed forces 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."

At the Vatican, Pope Francis urged Bolivians, including its politicians, to calmly await the outcome of the election review. The Argentine-born pope on Sunday told pilgrims and tourists in St. Peter's Square that he was entrusting to their prayers "the situation of beloved Bolivia."

Source: AP