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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March, 2005, 06:50 GMT
Bolivia leader to stay in office
President Carlos Mesa
Mr Mesa has maintained high approval ratings despite the crisis
Bolivia's embattled President Carlos Mesa has decided to stay in office, bringing an end to a political crisis that has paralysed the country.

Mr Mesa confirmed his decision hours after Congress rejected his plan to bring elections forward by two years.

Widespread street protests against energy policies had undermined his position, prompting the crisis.

On Wednesday, Bolivia's Congress voted to raise taxes on foreign energy firms, and opposition MPs lowered blockades.

Opposition MPs had backed the protests, by Bolivia's indigenous majority, which have virtually brought the country to a standstill in recent weeks.

After holding meetings with church leaders, security forces and his cabinet, Mr Mesa appeared on Bolivian television, declaring: "I am not going to run away from my responsibilities."

The BBC's Elliott Gotkine says the saga of Mr Mesa's presidency has reached a conclusion.

Unconstitutional

On Wednesday, Evo Morales, leader of the opposition Movement Towards Socialism party, called off the blockades after the energy bill was passed.

He described the law as "a middle ground".

Key to the protests was a demand for higher taxes on foreign energy companies exploiting Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves, which are the among the largest in the western hemisphere.

Violent protests over gas exports forced President Mesa's predecessor to flee the country nearly two years ago.

Burning roadblocks in Bolivia. Archive picture
Roadblocks throughout Bolivia have undermined Mr Mesa
As it stands the new bill - which still requires approval by Bolivia's Senate - raises taxes on profits from 18% to 32%.

That remains some way short of Mr Morales' initial demand for a 50% levy.

Last week Mr Mesa offered to resign in an attempt to break the deadlock with his political opponents, but his offer was rejected by parliament.

On Tuesday the president called for early elections, a move that would essentially end his four-year term of office two years early.

As the incumbent, Mr Mesa is constitutionally barred from standing for another term.

But Congress ruled that bringing forward elections would be unconstitutional.



SEE ALSO:
Bolivia unions intensify protests
10 Mar 05 |  Americas
Mesa to stay on as Bolivia leader
09 Mar 05 |  Americas
Bolivia leader quits amid protest
07 Mar 05 |  Americas
Q&A: Turmoil in Bolivia
07 Mar 05 |  Americas
Bolivian fuel protests escalate
22 Jan 05 |  Americas
Bolivia's gas fires new movements
17 Oct 04 |  Americas


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