LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian police say they broke an armed international group on Thursday that was plotting to assassinate President Evo Morales and the vice president.
Three suspects were killed and two were arrested in a half-hour long shootout with officers in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, police said. The area is the center of political opposition to Morales.
Police confiscated explosives, high-caliber weapons and plans to follow the president's motorcade, Police Commander Victor Hugo Escobar said in a news conference.
They included C-4 explosives "that don't exist in Bolivia," Vice President Alvaro Garcia said.
Morales told journalists in Venezuela's seaside city of Cumana that he and Garcia were the targets.
"I had information several days ago that they were preparing an assassination attempt," Morales said. "Yesterday, I gave the vice president and the commander of the national police instructions to stage an operation and detain those mercenaries."
Escobar said that among those killed were Hungarians, while Garcia said in a statement that the band was composed of Croatians, Irish and Bolivian "far right."
Among the seized weapons were rifles with telescopic sights. Documents were seized "pertaining not only to past events but future attacks against the highest authorities of the national government," Garcia said.
Police are searching for other suspects, adding "there are other cells," he added.
Police said the group also is responsible for a dynamite attack Wednesday on the home of Bolivia's Catholic Cardinal Julio Terrazas, who was not home at the time.
Santa Cruz Gov. Ruben Costas said in a news conference that local police were not involved in the operation and suggested that it was staged to discredit his government.
"The government for three years has repeated allegations of a coup but has never shown any evidence," Costas said.
Costas promotes the autonomy of the region along with other opposition governors.
Garcia called his comments "regrettable."
Witnesses told the radio station Fides that the shooting began at 4 a.m. and lasted half an hour. The windows of the hotel were destroyed.