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Morales calls for talks on autonomy

Latest update : 2008-05-08

After the province of Santa Cruz voted in favour of autonomy, Bolivian President Evo Morales called for urgent talks with regional leaders as other provinces prepare to stage their own referendums.

Bolivian President Evo Morales called on Thursday for urgent talks with regional leaders to ease divisions over mounting demands for autonomy, but some said they were not yet ready for negotiations.
Bolivia's richest region of Santa Cruz voted heavily in favor of autonomy from central government in a referendum on Sunday and the leaders of at least three other regions said they will not meet with Morales until holding similar votes over the next two months.
The eastern lowland regions of Tarija, Beni and Pando plan referendums before the end of June.
The votes could strengthen the autonomy movement and increase conflict with the western highlands where Morales, a leftist and Bolivia's first indigenous president, has his support base.
"This Bolivian family cannot be divided," Morales said in Santa Cruz just days after his supporters clashed with autonomy backers in the referendum. "Autonomy must be for all Bolivians, with social justice, not autonomy just for groups."
Morales, who has said the referendums are illegal, asked for all of Bolivia's nine regional governors to meet with him on Monday to avoid further division.
But opposition leaders say they will only attend talks if the government gives a clear signal that it will respect the autonomy votes.
"We are of the position that dialogue must come after the Tarija referendum," said Reynaldo Bayard, a business leader and supporter of autonomy in Tarija.
The referendums are widely seen as a rejection of Morales' left-wing policies, particularly his goal of redistributing lands to Bolivia's poor, indigenous majority.
Morales is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and is a champion of Indian rights and agrarian reform.
His pro-indigenous policies worry the wealthy eastern provinces, where some large landowners see him as a threat to booming agriculture.
The referendum votes would in theory give conservative-leaning regions more control over natural resources and the tax and justice systems.

Date created : 2008-05-08