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Latest update : 2009-07-20

Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega will seek a referendum on amending the constitution to allow him to run for re-election. Ortega made the announcement on the 30th anniversary of the leftist Sandinista revolution that he led.

AFP - Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega announced Sunday, on the 30th anniversary of the leftist Sandinista revolution he led, that he would seek a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to seek reelection.

Following in the footsteps of elected regional allies, Ortega told thousands of supporters here that he would seek a referendum to let "the people say if they want to reward or punish" their leaders with reelection.

His close leftist allies who have had rules changed enabling them to remain in power include presidents Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.

In the last month President Manuel Zelaya in neighboring Honduras was ousted in a coup by his own military after seeking similar action.

Ortega was leading celebrations marking the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Sandinista uprising that removed a decades-long dictatorship when he made the announcement.

The revolution sparked years of unrest and its leaders were eventually reelected to power in 2006.

Nicaragua's constitution, amended since 1995, allows only one presidential term at a time and two non-consecutive terms.

The government, however, will "not continue to deny the (people's) right to choose (their leaders)," insisted Ortega before thousands of flag-waving supporters at Managua's John Paul II Plaza de la Fe (Faith Square).

"The right to reelection should be up to everyone; and the people should be the one to decide whom to reward or punish" with their votes for a possible reelection, the president stressed.

Surrounded by regional leftist allies -- with top representatives attending from Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia -- the rally, even before Ortega announced his intention to seek a referendum, was already a venue to express solidarity with Zelaya.

Crisis talks had meanwhile broken down in Costa Rica on Sunday between Zelaya's aides and Honduras' de facto government, who took control last month and decried the leftist's "crimes" against the constitution for seeking to alter it.

Sunday's celebration commemorates the uprising led by the FSLN rebels that on July 19, 1979 ousted the regime of dictator Anastasio Somoza, after 45 years of oppressive rule.

Ortega, now 63, led the revolution as a young man and now has a less radical tone but remains a committed leftist -- backed by support from Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.

Caracas last year alone gave this impoverished mountainous Central American nation some 457 million dollars.

For many, the Sandinistas remain an example of leftist idealism.

At the rally thousands of Ortega supporters waved his party's red and black flags and held banners praising the Sandinista's government focus on social programs, such as efforts to provide universal free education, medical coverage and decent housing.

But for others, some of the glory, which always was inevitably enmeshed with the joy of finally ousting a dictatorship, has faded amid still tough economic hardship.

"There is not a lot left of the revolution we led back in 1979," Sandinista veteran Jonathan Antonio, who now cleans streets in the capital, told AFP as the celebrations got underway.

He said "individualism, selfishness and cronyism" now were part of the government, since its second return to office.

At the rally, Ortega fuelled popular anti-US sentiment among his supporters by denouncing proposed new US military bases in Colombia, describing them as contributing to an "occupation" of that country that threatened neighboring Venezuela and the entire region.

"We want no more US bases," he said. The United States "cannot continue this arms race in Latin America."

Date created : 2009-07-20