Bolivia's President Arce finds new strength after seeing off military coup

By Lucinda Elliott, Monica Machicao and Daniel Ramos

(Reuters) -Bolivian leftist President Luis Arce told Reuters on Friday support on the streets had strengthened his government after a failed military coup just days ago and that he would keep working until his last day, in one of his first interviews since the dramatic attack.

The quiet economist was thrust into the global spotlight on Wednesday when rogue military units seized the central square of La Paz and rammed a door of the presidential palace with an armored vehicle to allow soldiers to rush in.

Flanked by armed soldiers, a rogue general, Juan Jose Zuniga, had demanded a shake-up of the government. Arce had warned that the landlocked country of some 12 million people was facing a coup and called for supporters to mobilize.

Face-to-face he ordered the general to stand down, and hours later as support for the coup disintegrated the soldiers pulled back.

Zuniga and dozens of others have since been arrested. The attack is the most dramatic attempt to overthrow the government in Bolivia in recent years, despite its mottled history with around 190 coup attempts in just two centuries.

"The support of the people in the streets and the international support we received has strengthened us to be here again to continue our work," said Arce, a student of Karl Marx credited for driving Bolivia's "economic miracles" in the early 2000s as economy minister under iconic leader Evo Morales.

"For us absolutely nothing has changed ... We are going to keep working until the very last day," he said at the government headquarters in highland political capital La Paz where armed soldiers had burst in only meters (yards) away days earlier.

Arce and Morales, while both from the same MAS socialist party and former allies, have become fierce rivals. Morales, who resigned in 2019 after a disputed election sparked violent protests, wants to unseat Arce in a 2025 presidential election.

Arce, 60, acknowledged the financial strains on the gas-producing Bolivian economy, which has led to a shortage of dollars, petrol at the pumps and growing voter dissatisfaction.

"There is a temporary lack of liquidity of U.S. dollars," Arce said, adding that his administration had taken "several measures" to resolve the problem, without giving specifics.

The president blamed "external and internal interests" for adding to the country's economic pressures, "that do not like that we are industrializing our natural resources", a reference to the country's gas and huge, but untapped lithium reserves.

"They do not like that we have taken a very sovereign position in the national economy."

(Reporting by Lucinda Elliott, Monica Machicao and Daniel Ramos; Editing by Sandra Maler)