Bolivia has entered a sudden era of political uncertainty after President Evo Morales, pushed by the military and weeks of massive protests, resigned after nearly 14 years in power.
Crowds of jubilant foes of the socialist leader celebrated in the streets after Mr Morales’s announcement on Sunday.
They treated the ousting of the leader, who pushed aside presidential term limits and claimed victory in a widely questioned October election, as a triumph of democracy.
“We are celebrating that Bolivia is free,” said one demonstrator near the presidential palace.
But others – including Mr Morales himself – saw it as a return to the bleak era of coups overseen by Latin American militaries that long dominated the region.
Mr Morales stepped aside only after the military chief, General Williams Kaliman, called for him to quit to allow the restoration of peace and stability.
Mr Morales earlier in the day had already accepted calls for a new election by an Organisation of American States team that found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the October election whose official result showed Mr Morales getting just enough votes to avoid a run-off against a united opposition.
It was not immediately clear who would succeed Mr Morales, or how his successor would be chosen.
His vice president also resigned as did the Senate president, who was next in line. The only other official listed by the constitution as a successor, the head of the lower house, had already resigned.
Jennifer Cyr, associate professor of political science and Latin American studies at the University of Arizona, said “the power vacuum opens up space for the military to potentially step in”.
Mr Morales was the first member of Bolivia’s indigenous population to become president and he brought unusual stability and economic progress, helping cut poverty and inequality in the impoverished nation, and he remains deeply popular among many Bolivians.
Backers of the president have clashed with opposition demonstrators in disturbances that have followed the October vote.
After nightfall, there were reports of tensions in La Paz and the neighbouring city of El Alto, with reports of looting and burning of public property and some houses.
The leadership crisis had escalated in the hours leading up to Mr Morales’ resignation. Two government ministers in charge of mines and hydrocarbons, the Chamber of Deputies president and three other pro-government legislators announced their resignations. Some said opposition supporters had threatened their families.
Mr Morales, whose whereabouts were unknown, went on Twitter on Sunday to claim authorities were seeking to arrest him.
In his tweet, he said: “I report to the world and Bolivian people that a police officer publicly announced that he has instructions to execute an unlawful apprehension order against me; in addition, violent groups also stormed my home.”
Armed intruders did break into Mr Morales’ home in Cochabamba.
Mexico’s government reported on Sunday night that 20 members of Bolivia’s executive and legislative branches were at the official Mexican residence in the capital seeking asylum.