Page last updated at 10:38 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 11:38 UK

Bolivia set for constitution vote

A supporter of Presdient Morales shouts slogans outside Congress
Voters will also elect a new president and Congress in 2009

Bolivia's Congress has approved holding a referendum on a new constitution that President Evo Morales says will empower the country's indigenous majority.

The decision came after hours of debate in which both sides made compromises, including an agreement by Mr Morales to seek only one further term in office.

The referendum will take place on 25 January and is likely to be passed.

Mr Morales, in office since 2006, has pursued political reform but has met fierce resistance from some sectors.

After the vote in Congress, Mr Morales addressed thousands of his supporters who had gathered in La Paz's main square.

"Now we have made history," he said. "This process of change cannot be turned back...neo-liberalism will never return to Bolivia."

The opposition had initially rejected the referendum bill, saying the draft constitution would have concentrated too much power in the president's hands.

President Morales is besieged by supporters carrying copies of the draft constitution
Political reform has been at the centre of Mr Morales's policies

The lengthy debate in Congress produced a number of changes, including an agreement by Mr Morales to seek only one more five-year term. If re-elected, he would have to leave office in 2014.

The new constitution includes a bill of rights, including a chapter dedicated to Bolivia's 36 indigenous peoples.

It increases state control over the economy, limits the size of big land holdings and redistributes revenues from the important gas fields in the eastern lowlands to poorer parts of the nation.

Despite the negotiations, it remains unclear how some of the constitution's articles can be reconciled, analysts say.

Indigenous people would be granted autonomy over their traditional lands and a "priority" share of the revenue from natural resources. But many of the areas where natural resources are found are governed by the opposition and would also be granted greater autonomy.

The arguments over constitutional reform began back in 2006 when a new assembly was elected to draft a new charter.

The wrangling has spilled over into, at times, deadly violence and last month anti-Morales rioters seized government offices in some parts of the country.

The referendum on 25 January will be followed by elections for president, vice-president and Congress on 6 December, 2009.

The constitution is expected to be approved.

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