DEVELOPING STORY,

Regional organisations rally behind Bolivian government as troops and armoured vehicles gather in the capital.

Soldiers have stormed Bolivia’s presidential palace in an attempted coup d’etat, as President Luis Arce denounced the “irregular mobilisation” of the country’s army.

Arce called on the armed forces to demobilise immediately, sacking army general commander Juan Jose Zuniga, who appears to be leading the effort, along with the heads of the navy and air force. Leaders from around the world have strongly condemned the army’s actions as illegal.

“The country is facing an attempted coup d’etat. Here we are, firm in Casa Grande, to confront any coup attempt. We need the Bolivian people to organise,” Arce said in a video, surrounded by ministers in the palace.

Dramatic footage on Bolivian television on Wednesday showed Arce confronting Zuniga in the palace hallway. “I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination,” Arce said.

Newly appointed army chief Jose Wilson Sanchez ordered all mobilised troops to return to their barracks, stating that “no one wants the images we’re seeing in the streets.”

A soldier approaches a journalist gesturing for them to leave
A soldier gestures for journalists to leave Plaza Murillo as soldiers gather near the presidential palace in Plaza Murillo in La Paz, Bolivia, on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 [Juan Karita/AP Photo]

Before he entered the building, Zuniga addressed reporters in the capital.

“Stop destroying, stop impoverishing our country, stop humiliating our army,” he said.

“The three chiefs of the armed forces have come to express our dismay. There will be a new cabinet of ministers, surely things will change, but our country cannot continue like this any longer,” Zuniga told a local TV station. The general noted that he recognises Arce as the commander-in-chief “for now” but is trying to “restore democracy”.

Former President Evo Morales denounced the movement of the military in the Murillo square outside the palace, calling it a coup “in the making”.

“We will not allow the armed forces to violate democracy and intimidate people,” he said.

The country’s largest labour union has announced an indefinite strike in defence of the government and against the actions of the army.

Latin American leaders and organisations also strongly condemned the effort on Wednesday, with officials from countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, Chile, Peru, Honduras, Paraguay and Colombia denouncing the army’s moves as an attack on democracy.

A spokesperson for the White House said that the United States urges calm and restraint and that the Biden administration is monitoring developments.

“We condemned the events in Bolivia. The army must submit itself to the legitimately elected civil power,” Luis Almagro, leader of the Organization of American States (OAS) said following news reports that a tank had slammed into the doors of the national palace, clearing a path for soldiers to enter.

A woman walks past a group of heavily armed police
A woman walks by military police in Plaza Murillo, in La Paz, Bolivia, Wednesday, June 26, 2024 [Juan Karita/AP Photo]

The scenes have brought alarm to the Andean nation, where former left-wing President Morales, from the same party as Arce, was removed from office in events many described as a coup in 2019.

“I think it’s very important to remember that Bolivia had an illegal government with the support of the military and a coup in 2019,” Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network told Al Jazeera.

“And so we have had a return to democracy, but there continues to be impunity, although there are charges against some military officers and some political figures are in prison. But we have a structural problem in the armed forces.”

Photos from The Associated Press show soldiers clearing away journalists near the presidential palace in the capital of La Paz. Armoured vehicles and heavily armed soldiers were present.

“We express the strongest condemnation of the attempted coup d’etat in Bolivia,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

Honduran President Xiomara Castro called the mobilisation a “criminal coup d’etat”, and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the group of European states condemns any attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government.

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