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Bolivia's Morales rejoices as court okays run for fourth term

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La Paz (AFP)

Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales rejoiced Wednesday in a court decision authorizing a tilt at a fourth term, saying it would guarantee stability, in what the opposition slammed as a blow to democracy.

The president, a staunch ally of leftist governments in Cuba and Venezuela and a fierce critic of the United States, told a news conference that a possible fourth term "guarantees a democratic continuity, but also guarantees stability, dignity and work for dignity."

Morales said the people would decide whether or not he was successful in elections due in 2019 after the South American country's constitutional court ruled on Tuesday that he could run for a fourth consecutive term.

"We are empowered to have the vote of the people to give us their support," the 58-year-old president said.

Earlier, he wrote on Twitter: "The Democratic and Cultural revolution continues. To Victory forever!"

Morales, Bolivia's first indigenous president, would rule until 2025 if elected next year, a vote that would give him 19 consecutive years in power.

Demonstrators against Morales' reelection took to the streets in the capital La Paz on Wednesday. In nearby El Alto, students marched under a banner calling on the president to step down.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the court said the right to run for office superseded the limits imposed in the constitution, despite the South American nation having rejected the move in a referendum last year.

In February 2016, the country voted by a slim margin against proposed changes to the constitution to allow Morales, already Bolivia's longest-serving leader since independence from Spain in 1825, to stand again for the presidency.

Morales has already had the constitution changed once, three years after taking power in 2006.

Under that revised constitution, he was elected president in 2009 and then won what was meant to be a one-off renewal in 2014.

- Blow to democracy -

The opposition reacted angrily to the court decision, saying it was "a blow to democracy".

The ruling "turns Bolivia into a country subject to the discretion of President Morales," said Carlos Mesa, who according to opinion polls would be Morales' strongest opponent if he decides to run.

"We will not allow Bolivia to become Venezuela and we will confront Evo Morales in the streets, at the polls, in the city and in the countryside," said former opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina.

"This is one of the largest attacks on the rule of law, the Constitution, democracy," said constitutional lawyer Carlos Alarcon, referring to the court ignoring last year's referendum.

Political analyst Jorge Lazarte said the ruling was "a coup against the constitution and a blow against the popular will."

For that reason, the future political landscape is uncertain because "a greater indignation of the people" can be expected.

"It opens a very rough road ahead. How much of a rough road is it going to be? It's all going to depend on how the people react."

Former president Jorge Quiroga said, "To be a tyrant is not, nor will be, recognized internationally."

Separately, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, questioned the court decision and recalled that re-election had been rejected in a referendum.

"In fact, Article 23 of the American Convention of Human Rights cited in the judgement of the TCP of Bolivia does not contemplate the right to perpuate oneself in power. In addition, presidential reelection was rejected in a referendum by popular will in #21F of 2016", he wrote on Twitter.

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