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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 September 2006, 04:21 GMT 05:21 UK
Bolivia sees anti-reform protests
Opponents of Evo Morales in Santa Cruz
Some regions are also pushing for more autonomy from the centre
Opposition leaders in Bolivia's wealthier eastern regions say a one-day strike in protest at plans to re-write the constitution was a huge success.

But the government said the stoppage was a political failure, because support was limited to the east.

The action was widely seen as the biggest challenge yet to the authority of President Evo Morales.

The strikers are objecting to plans to allow a constituent assembly to amend the charter by simple majority vote.

A power struggle between Bolivia's wealthier, white elite - which opposes the changes - and its indigenous majority is at the heart of the row.

Friday's strike prompted calls for compromise in what is seen as an increasingly polarised situation.

"We're headed, both parties, the opposition and the government - to extreme positions," Congressman Jose Ona from the conservative Podemos party told the Associated Press news agency.

"We have to try to create a dialogue and arrive at the type of conversations that can avoid these conflicts."

In Santa Cruz, buses, schools and businesses were reported to have closed.

Map

Protesters blocked roads into the city, where the streets were deserted, AP reported.

Strike leaders fought members of unions supportive of the president in the city's streets.

Strikes also took place in three other states.

Together, the states form a crescent-shaped area that curves around Bolivia's south-eastern lowlands - known as the "Media Luna" or Half Moon. They are home to about a third of Bolivia's population, including most of its white European-descended minority.

'Totalitarian'

"This is a historic day of struggle for democracy and against authoritarianism," said German Angelo, president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz.

But Interior Minister Alicia Munoz said the strike was a "total political failure" because few people took part.

One of the central demands of the mass social movements which helped get Mr Morales elected was that Bolivia's constitution be rewritten. Indigenous activists say the charter entrenches the dominance of the non-indigenous elite.

Mr Morales established the constituent assembly in August, but lacks the support of two-thirds of delegates he needs to push through changes.

He wants each article to be passed by a simple majority, with two-thirds support needed only to ratify the final document -while the opposition accuses the government of changing the rules illegally.

'Making problems'

But the BBC's Damian Kahya in La Paz says the strike is about more than procedures.

Bolivia's constituent assembly
The strikers oppose sweeping changes to Bolivia's constitution

The four eastern regions - which hold most of Bolivia's wealth and natural gas - also recently voted for autonomy, something Mr Morales opposes.

A spokesman for the Bolivian government, Pablo Solon, said the strike was about more than day-to-day politics.

"In order to have more for the poor sector there is a rich sector that has to give something up and of course this rich sector is going to try to make as much problem as you can see. And you're going to see that."

Our correspondent says many strikers also feel marginalised by the government.

Mr Morales has offered to negotiate with his opponents. The strength of Friday's strike will determine how much he will need to compromise, our correspondent adds.




SEE ALSO
Push for new Bolivia constitution
06 Aug 06 |  Americas
Morales seeks radical land reform
03 Aug 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Bolivia
03 Jul 06 |  Country profiles



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