Page last updated at 10:15 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 11:15 UK

Bolivia sets date for referendum

Bolivian President Evo Morales holds a copy of his proposed new constitution, 28 August
The new constitution is at the heart of a bitter dispute

Bolivian President Evo Morales has announced the date for a controversial referendum on a new constitution which would advance his socialist policies.

Mr Morales said the poll on 7 December would "deepen democracy" and "consolidate the process of change" in the South American nation.

The proposed new constitution would see more land being transferred to the Bolivia's poor indigenous majority.

But the move is opposed by several powerful right-wing governors.

"We aim to re-found Bolivia through a new constitution so that all Bolivians... will have the same rights and the same duties," Mr Morales was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency, after signing a decree on the referendum date.

Mr Morales became the first indigenous leader of Bolivia in 2006, promising sweeping socialist reforms.

'Powerful' opposition

But his moves have faced strong opposition from powerful right-wing governors in five of Bolivia's regions which mainly have populations of European descent.

The governors, who represent the wealthiest energy-rich regions of Bolivia, are demanding greater autonomy as well as more control over revenues of natural gas in their areas. Some of the energy revenues are currently being used to pay for pensions for the elderly.

The governors of Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando, Tarija and Chuquisaca are against their regions participating in the poll. Their supporters have repeatedly blocked airstrips to prevent the president from landing in those areas.

"Let the people decide with their vote on the constitution, since we the authorities are unable to agree," said Mr Morales, according to the Associated Press news agency.

The announcement of the referendum date follows an recall referendum on 10 August, where Mr Morales gained a 67% vote of confidence.

Bolivian poll unites and divides
11 Aug 08 |  Americas
Divided Bolivia set for referendum
09 Aug 08 |  Americas
Morales calls for Bolivian unity
07 Aug 08 |  Americas
Bolivia protests prevent summit
05 Aug 08 |  Americas
Governors snub Bolivia referendum
24 Jun 08 |  Americas
Bolivia region 'chooses autonomy'
23 Jun 08 |  Americas
Morales 'set on Bolivia reforms'
15 May 08 |  Americas
Country profile: Bolivia
22 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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