Bolivian leader Evo Morales has slammed attacks on state media, that saw rioters forcing journalists to leave their offices unless they want them to be trashed. In a separate incident, a radio chief was tied to a tree.
Bolivia TV (BTV) and Patria Nueva (RPN) radio stations were forced to cut off their broadcast after a rowdy crowd of some 300 protesters descended on their HQ in La Paz, effectively putting it under siege on Saturday.
The demonstrators, reportedly enraged over the way the protests that have gripped the South American country since mid-October, are being portrayed by state media, demanded journalists vacate the premises if they do not want their offices being raided.
Some 40 employees of both BTV and RPN eventually cave in to the demand and left the building, while heckled by chanting protesters.
Patria Nueva director, Ivan Maldonado, said that the journalists, who were vastly outnumbered by the protesters, “were evicted by force after receiving constant threats from people gathered outside.”
In a comment to Sputnik, Maldonado stressed that the employees were taken hostage by the crowd.
“Protesters surrounded our studios and held us captive for two hours, threatening to destroy our equipment … if we did not stop our journalistic work,” he said, noting that the station eventually went off air, and resorted to playing music and films.
The takeover was denounced by Morales on Twitter. The socialist leader noted that while protesters say they have taken to streets to defend democracy, their actions speak otherwise.
“They say they defend democracy, but they are acting like dictatorial regimes”
Morales also condemned what he called “a cowardly and savage attack” on a radio station run by a labour union – Unified Syndical Confederation of Rural Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB) – of which Morales is a member.
The station was overrun by a group of protesters on Saturday, who then rounded up its director, Jose Aramayo, and tied him to a tree. Videos and photos of the capture have been gaining traction on online, drawing backlash from Morales supporters.
There have been also reports that the station’s offices were ransacked by the protesters.
Tensions have been running high in Bolivia, with opposition accusing the government of election fraud after Morales narrowly secured a 10-point lead against primary challenger, Carlos Mesa, in October 20 general election, thus avoiding a runoff. Morales has denied allegations of tempering with the vote count, and invited the Organization of American States (OAS) to audit the results. The review is still underway.
The protests sweeping across the country have been marred by violence. Footage emerged online Sunday showing the residence of Oruro city governor Víctor Hugo Vásquez being engulfed in flames after protesters reportedly set fire to the buiding. The house was reportedly looted before it was ravaged by the blaze.
The governor, who is an ally of Morales, has been moved to a safe place.
In a statement on Saturday, the Armed Forces said that they wouldn’t confront people “to whom [they] have a duty.” There have been reports that some police and military were spotted marching along with the protesters.
On Friday, the Bolivian foreign ministry denounced servicemen who “abandoned their constitutional role” of protecting the society and state institutions.
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