ROME – Bolivia’s bishops said Sunday’s presidential poll showed “obvious signs of fraud” and endorsed a runoff vote.

Speaking from Rome, where he is attending the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, Bishop Ricardo Centellas, the president of the Bolivian bishops’ conference, called for the will of the people to be respected.

Initial results of Sunday’s poll, where President Evo Morales sought a fourth consecutive term, showed no candidate received a majority of the vote.

However, the counting of the ballots was suspended for a day and suddenly Morales showed a surge of votes, leading many to accuse the president’s supporters of trying to rig the vote, so he could claim the presidency without a runoff.

Opposition supporters and security forces have been involved in violent clashes during protests over the vote counting process. The opposition has called for a strike on Wednesday.

The Organization of American States, the European Union, and the United States have all expressed alarm over the election.

Centellas, flanked by other Bolivian bishops attending the synod, said the Church leaders were concerned about the situation in their homeland.

“Seeing the violence that has been unleashed in our country, we are deeply concerned that there are obvious signs of fraud and we believe the protest is widespread,” the bishop said.

“We urgently call for the [results of the] vote – and the clamor of the people for democracy – to be respected, and hopefully soon there will be a second round to achieve peace and justice,” he added.

Bishop Oscar Aparicio, the vice-president of the bishops’ conference, echoed his concerns, and urged all sides to protest peacefully, seeking the well-being of all.

When the counting was suspended, Morales had a seven-point advantage over his closest opponent, Carlos Mesa. However, he didn’t have the 10-percentage point lead necessary to win the election. When the counting resumed almost 24 hours later, his percentage of votes started moving over the threshold, and his opponents said officials were working to help the president avoid a runoff against what would be a unified opposition figure.

However, later on Tuesday, more official results started to show that Morales would not meet the threshold and would have to face his first runoff in nearly 14 years of power.

The new national vote would take place in December, and a new government, either led by Morales or Mesa, is expected to take over in late January.

On Wednesday morning, Morales claimed that the country’s right-wing political movements were trying to stage a coup, and still claimed that when the final results for the first round were tallied, he would win an outright victory.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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