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Page last updated at 10:17 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 11:17 UK

Morales calls for Bolivian unity

Evo Morales addresses supporters in La Paz
Security concerns meant Mr Morales spoke in La Paz not Sucre

Bolivian President Evo Morales has called for unity as tension rises ahead of Sunday's vote on whether he and state governors should stay in office.

Speaking on Bolivia's independence day, Mr Morales criticised what he called privileged groups who talked of separation and opposed change.

He is embroiled in a political battle with regional governors over his attempts to reform the constitution.

Protests have been increasing in the run-up to the referendum.

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina were forced to call off planned visits after two people were killed and several injured in protests.

The head of the Organisation of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, has said he is "deeply concerned" about the political violence and has appealed to all sides to allow Sunday's recall referendum to go ahead peacefully.

Reforms

Amid security concerns, Mr Morales was forced to hold Wednesday's independence day celebrations in his power base of La Paz rather than the opposition-run city of Sucre.

Addressing supporters gathered in the centre of La Paz, the president criticised the "small and privileged groups" that opposed the process of change.

A man walks past a wall in La Paz reading "Evo Yes"
The terms of the referendum have been disputed

"These groups do not want equality among fellow Bolivians. They do not respect the identity and diversity of our people. And our biggest concern is that some of these small groups talk about independence and separatism using autonomy as an excuse," Mr Morales said.

President Morales is hoping the recall referendum on 10 August will strengthen his hand, correspondents say.

If he wins, as some opinion polls suggest, he is likely to claim public support to push through reforms in the rest of his term in office which runs until January 2011.

These would include constitutional changes to enshrine reforms such as land redistribution to Bolivia's indigenous majority and the sharing of wealth between the richer eastern regions and poorer west.

The proposals also include allowing the president to stand for re-election for another five-year term.

Divisions

Critics say the constitution would cede too much control to the government in La Paz.

Governors in the east, where Bolivia's natural gas fields lie, have staged their own referendums to demand more regional autonomy.

It is far from clear that the recall referendum will help reduce the deep divisions in Bolivia, says the BBC's Latin America analyst James Painter.

The terms of the vote have been challenged and are still in doubt.

Under the rules decided by the National Electoral Court, President Morales and Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera will lose their mandate if more than 53.7% of voters support their removal.

That was their share of the vote in the 2005 presidential election.

The regional governors need more than 50% of the votes to remain in office.




SEE ALSO
Bolivia protests prevent summit
05 Aug 08 |  Americas
Governors snub Bolivia referendum
24 Jun 08 |  Americas
Morales sets Bolivia recall date
12 May 08 |  Americas
Setback to Bolivian reform plan
08 Mar 08 |  Americas
Battle for Bolivia's heart
08 Sep 07 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Bolivia
22 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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