Page last updated at 23:50 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Uruguay's leader quits his party

Tabare Vazquez (file)
Mr Vazquez said support was more important than allowing abortions

Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez has resigned as a member of the country's Socialist Party amid a row over his vetoing of an abortion bill.

The controversial bill would have decriminalised abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Mr Vazquez was said to be angry by criticism of his opposition to bill, which many in his own party had backed.

Several leading party members said they would try to persuade him to reverse his decision.

"It is a painful decision, both for the president and for us, and we will do everything possible to keep him from leaving," said Monica Xavier, a Socialist Party senator.

Under current Uruguayan law, women who have abortions, other than if they have been raped or their lives are in danger, face up to nine months in prison.

Those who carry out the procedure face up to two years in prison.

In November, the Uruguayan Senate voted by 17 votes to 13 to make abortion legal if there was a health risk to the mother or foetus.

The bill would also have allowed a woman to end her pregnancy in the first 12 weeks under other circumstances, such as extreme poverty.

But centre-left Mr Vazquez, who is also a doctor, vetoed the bill, saying it was more important to provide support for women with unwanted pregnancies than to enable them to have abortions.

Mr Vazquez's decision was made public by Vice-President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, who said Mr Vazquez had written last week to the party's secretary-general.

Opinion polls had suggested a majority of Uruguayans favoured easing their predominantly-Roman Catholic country's restrictions on abortion.

The Socialist Party forms part of the Broad Front governing coalition.

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