UPDATE 1-Bolivian prosecutor says Morales rivals behind plot

Tue May 5, 2009 2:42pm BST
 

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* Prosecutor says opposition implicated in alleged plot

* Opposition denies any involvement (Adds opposition leader comments, byline)

By Eduardo Garcia

LA PAZ, May 5 (Reuters) – The Bolivian prosecutor investigating an alleged plot to kill President Evo Morales said a witness had implicated leading opposition figures in the conspiracy.

Police raided a hotel last month in the opposition stronghold of Santa Cruz, killing three people and arresting two suspected of planning to assassinate the leftist Morales and other prominent figures.

Marcelo Sosa, the prosecutor leading the investigation, said late on Monday a person linked to the group, Ignacio Villa, testified that Santa Cruz businessman Branko Marinkovic and the province’s right-wing governor had offered financial help.

Marinkovic made Villa “an economic offer” and Gov. Ruben Costas “offered him a house and land,” Sosa told reporters.

“The aim of both offers was to (encourage) them to finish what they had started, a string of attacks,” said Sosa, adding that Costas, Marinkovic and several other businessmen from the wealthy agricultural province had been summoned to testify.

Marinkovic, a fierce critic of Morales and a prominent political activist, denied any link to the case.

“We emphatically reject this setup … The accusations made by prosecutor Sosa are completely false,” he was quoted as saying in Tuesday’s edition of daily newspaper La Prensa.

POLITICAL RIVALS

Morales, a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, already had accused right-wing political rivals of involvement in the plan, which Costas and others have denied.

Costas has described the alleged plot as a “show” and the opposition condemned the police action as an “execution.”

Sosa said a second witness testified that Marinkovic gave the group $200,000 to buy weapons.

In last month’s raid, police killed the suspected gang ringleader, Bolivian Eduardo Rozsa, along with an Irishman and a Romanian. A Bolivian and a Hungarian were arrested.

The Irish and Hungarian governments have questioned Bolivia’s account that the men had plotted to kill Morales and other public figures to create a “spiral of violence” that would destabilize the energy-rich but poor Andean nation.

Rozsa, a veteran of the 1990s Balkans war, said in an interview filmed months before his death that he was traveling to Santa Cruz to defend the eastern province and support its separatist movement.

Four of Bolivia’s nine provinces voted last year for greater autonomy from the central government, underscoring a sometimes violent power struggle between the mostly indigenous western highlands — represented by Morales — and wealthier eastern regions.

The public prosecutor’s office has released photographs of the suspected mercenaries holding handguns and sniper rifles. (Editing by Helen Popper and Bill Trott)

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