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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BUENOS AIRES - Former Bolivia president Evo Morales told AFP on Tuesday that he was forced from office by a United States-backed coup d'etat aimed at gaining access to the South American country's vast lithium resources.
Demand for lithium is expected to grow globally as it is one of the key components in batteries used in high-tech equipment such as laptops and electric cars.
Morales resigned as president on November 10 after almost three weeks of protests against his controversial re-election to an unconstitutional fourth term in a poll widely denounced as rigged.
His resignation came after then-chief of the armed forces General Williams Kaliman publicly stated the former trade union leader should step down.
But since then, Morales -- Bolivia's first indigenous president -- has claimed to have been the victim of a coup d'etat.
"It was a national and international coup d'etat," Morales told AFP in an exclusive interview in Buenos Aires, where he has been living in exile after claiming asylum.
"Industrialized countries don't want competition."
Morales said Washington had not "forgiven" his country for choosing to seek lithium extraction partnerships with Russia and China rather than the US.
"That's why I'm absolutely convinced it's a coup against lithium," he said.
"We as a state had begun industrializing lithium... As a small country of 10 million inhabitants, we were soon going to set the price of lithium.
"They know we have the greatest lithium reserves in the world of 16,000 square kilometers."
Bolivia does have the largest confirmed lithium resources in the world, but they are widely thought to be of poor quality, and the country lacks the infrastructure to exploit them profitably.
As for his unconstitutional candidacy in the last election -- Bolivian presidents are limited to two successive terms but Morales was going for a fourth -- the socialist leader was unapologetic.
"We won in the first round," he said, despite the audit by the Organization of American States (OAS) that found clear evidence of vote rigging.
"So our participation was in no way a failure. But the coup d'etat was prepared in advance."
Morales has been barred by right-wing interim President Jeanine Anez from standing in re-scheduled elections due to take place early next year, but for which no date has yet been set.
Having originally accepted asylum in Mexico when he first left Bolivia claiming his life was in danger, Morales has based himself in neighboring Argentina since December 10.
His Movement for Socialism (MAS) party has even named him campaign chief for the upcoming poll.
Morales said a new MAS candidate will be picked during a party assembly on January 15, which could be held in either Bolivia or Argentina. -AFP
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