Coup attempt in Bolivia as armoured vehicle seen ramming into presidential palace

Bolivian armed forces took over the capital's central square as an armoured vehicle rammed through the entrance of the presidential palace as the president said the country was facing a coup attempt.

The country's president, Luis Arce, warned an "irregular" deployment of troops had taken place and called for "democracy to be respected" on X as Bolivian TV showed two tanks and a number of soldiers in front of the government palace in La Paz.

Video on Bolivian TV showed Mr Arce confronting the general commander of the army, Juan Jose Zuniga - who appeared to be leading the rebellion - in the palace hallway, telling him: "I am your captain, and I order you to withdraw your soldiers, and I will not allow this insubordination."

Before entering the building General Zuniga told journalists in the plaza: "Surely soon there will be a new cabinet of ministers; our country, our state cannot go on like this."

But General Zuniga said he recognised President Arce as commander in chief "for now".

The general has now been arrested, Bolivian authorities said, after the attorney general opened an investigation against him.

It is unclear what the charges against him are.

Mr Arce also replaced the head of the army, navy and air force, adding that anyone who rose up against him was "staining the uniform".

In a video surrounded by his cabinet, Mr Arce said: "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."

General Zuniga earlier confirmed the movement of uniformed officers and said: "We are upset by the affront, enough is enough."

He spoke on TV of "attacks on democracy" without elaborating.

General Zuniga did not explicitly say he was leading a coup, but said the army was trying to "restore democracy and free our political prisoners".

President calls for 'democracy to be respected'

Mr Arce called for "democracy to be respected" in a post on X.

"We cannot allow, once again, coup attempts to take the lives of Bolivians," he said from inside the palace, surrounded by government officials, in a video message sent to news outlets.

An hour later, Mr Arce was greeted by the roar of supporters as he announced new heads of the army, navy and air force.

He said the troops who rose up against him were "staining the uniform" of the military and vowed democracy would be respected.

The newly named army chief Jose Wilson Sanchez ordered troops in La Paz to return to barracks, adding: "No one wants the images we're seeing in the streets."

Troops and armoured vehicles then began pulling back from the presidential palace.

Former president denounces rebellion

Former Bolivian president Evo Morales denounced the movement of the military in the Murillo square outside the palace in a post on X, calling it a coup "in the making".

The US said it was closely monitoring the situation and urged calm and restraint.

Bolivia has faced mounting protests in recent months over the steep decline of its economy over the past two decades.

Tensions have risen ahead of a general election next year too, with Mr Morales planning to run against his former ally Mr Arce, creating a major rift in the ruling socialist party.

Many do not want the return of Mr Morales, who governed from 2006 until he was outed amid widespread protests in 2019. Mr Arce was elected in 2020.

General Zuniga had said recently Mr Morales should not be able to return as president, which led Mr Arce to remove him from his post this week.