Bolivian police and military forces used armoured vehicles and helicopters to clear access to a major gas plant in the city of El Alto on Tuesday, a show of strength after blockades at the facility had cut off fuel supply to nearby La Paz.
However in the midst of clashes and show of force, political discussions between the interim government and Congress controlled by unseated president Evo Morales continued with crucial meetings scheduled for Wednesday.
Helicopters flew above roads around the Senkata gas plant, operated by state-run YPFB, which were blocked with piles of burning tires. Protesters are demanding the return of leftist leader Evo Morales. The plant was finally taken by the force and at least five people have been reported killed.
Morales resigned on Nov. 10 amid anti-government demonstrations and rising pressure over vote-rigging allegations after an audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) found serious irregularities in an Oct. 20 election.
But Morales supporters have since ramped up protests, calling for caretaker President Jeanine Añez to step down and for Morales to return. Mounting violence in Bolivia has seen at least 27 people killed in street clashes, according to the country's ombudsman.
In what it said was a bid to restore calm, Bolivia's congress, controlled by lawmakers from Morales' Movement for Socialism (MAS), said on Tuesday it would cancel a contentious vote in the legislature that had been expected to reject Morales' resignation.
The vote would be suspended to create and contribute to an environment conducive to dialogue and peace, the Legislative Assembly said in a statement, citing instructions from new Senate head and MAS lawmaker Monica Eva Copa Murga.
Eva Copa Murga later told reporters the assembly would prepare legislation to annul the Oct. 20 election and move towards new elections as soon as possible. The two chambers of Congress will convene separately on Wednesday.
We do not want more deaths, we do not want more blood, she said, flanked by the majority of the MAS party lawmakers, calling on the military and pro-Morales group to demobilize.
The country's human right ombudsman said that three people have been killed in clashes with security forces around Senkata. The military said in a statement they had carried out a peaceful operation after trying negotiation and dialogue.
The MAS party - which itself has been split over how to proceed - holds a majority in the congress and could have voted to reject Morales' resignation, potentially creating dueling claims on the country's leadership and raising pressure on Añez.
Morales has railed at what he has called a right-wing coup against him and hinted he could return to the country, though he has pledged repeatedly not to run again in a new election. He stepped down after weeks of protests led to allies and eventually the military urging him to go.
Bolivians are feeling the pinch of the turmoil, with fuel shortages mounting and grocery stores short of basic goods as supporters of Morales blockade key transport routes. In the highland capital La Paz, roads have grown quiet as people preserve gasoline, with long queues for food staples.
People lined up with gas canisters next to the Senkata plant on Tuesday. Images showed some fuel trucks moving through the area under a strong military and police presence.
The country's hydrocarbons minister, Victor Hugo Zamora, said on Tuesday he was looking to unlock fuel deliveries for La Paz and called on the pro-Morales movements to join talks and allow economic activity to resume.
Juan Carlos Huarachi, head of the powerful Bolivian Workers' Center union and once a staunch Morales backer, called on lawmakers to find a resolution. Our only priority is to bring peace to the country, he told reporters.
Jorge Quiroga, a former president and Morales critic, said Morales wanted to see Bolivia burn, echoing other detractors who say he has continued to stoke unrest from Mexico, which Morales denies.