A month after a referendum on regional autonomy in the Bolivian province of Santa Cruz was declared illegal by the central government, the provinces of Beni and Pando voted overwhelmingly in favor of more self-government on Sunday.
Two impoverished Bolivian provinces overwhelmingly voted Sunday in support of regional autonomy, in defiance of President Evo Morales amid a tense atmosphere marked by violent clashes, exit polls showed.
The referendums, declared illegal by the Morales government, won approval in both Beni and Pando, nearly a month after the prosperous province of Santa Cruz overwhelmingly voted for autonomy measures.
Final results were not expected for five days, the head of the regional electoral commission, Zulema Gutierrez, said in Trinidad, the capital of Beni province.
But private television channel ATB said exit polling showed 81 percent of voters in Beni strongly backed proposed autonomy. In Pando, the autonomy proposal was backed by an overwhelming majority of 82 percent.
"This is an important process for the region, because we believe that with this vote we are going to change the course of our development," said Beni's governor, Ernesto Suarez, at the opening of the referendum.
The governor of Pando, Leopoldo Fernandez, said: "This vote is going to decide the destiny of our regions."
The plebiscites renewed tensions over Morales's policies, with clashes erupting in the capital of Pando, Cobija, between rural supporters of Morales and city dwellers who back greater autonomy. Skirmishes elsewhere blocked the road between the Bolivian capital La Paz and Beni.
In a village near Cobija, Filadelfia, ballot boxes were torched, the ATB television channel reported.
And an aide to the mayor of Yucumo along with his two sons were roughed up by opponents of the referendum, according to Catholic radio Fides.
The Morales government slammed the referendums as a waste of time and money, saying it would not recognize the results.
"The statutes are illegitimate, illegal, unconstitutional and separatist," Alfredo Rada, interior minister, told reporters at the presidential palace.
A fourth province, Tarija, plans to hold an autonomy referendum on June 22.
All four provinces from the eastern lowland region are resisting land and resource redistribution measures pushed by Morales that would benefit the poorer, mostly indigenous Bolivians of the mountainous western regions.
Having branded the autonomy plebiscites illegal, Morales on May 12 announced his own referendum, on his government and on provincial governors.
Political dialogue has collapsed between the socialist central government and the right-wing opposition, led by the Podemos party and the pro-autonomy governors.
Date created : 2008-06-02