Tue, Nov 27, 2007 - Page 7 News List

At least two killed in Bolivian riots over Constitution


Riots convulsed Bolivia's colonial capital on Sunday after allies of Bolivian President Evo Morales approved the framework for a new constitution that would permit his indefinite re-election and radically alter Bolivian politics.

At least two people, including a police officer, were killed.

A full article-by-article version of the constitution, which would establish a multiethnic state with 36 self-governing regions for indigenous groups, has yet to be approved.

But Morales on Sunday declared that the new charter's essence has now been determined. Voters will determine its fate, he said, without giving a date.

"The constitution will be approved in a referendum by the people, which is the most democratic" way, said Morales. An Aymara Indian and coca growers' union leader, Morales' political playbook has followed closely that of his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The unrest led national police commander General Miguel Vasquez to order all units out of Sucre, where the draft constitution was approved on Saturday, "to avoid more confrontations." He said the slain police officer had been "lynched" but offered no other details.

Hospital officials said the other victim was a carpenter who died of injuries after being hit by a tear gas canister as protesters attacked police headquarters and set fire to a jail, allowing 100 inmates to escape.

A third person, a lawyer previously identified as a student, was shot and killed on Saturday.

Forty others were injured as protesters hurled rocks, Molotov cocktails and dynamite at police.

Morales said the protests "were manipulated by oligarchic and neoliberal [pro-capitalist] groups that don't want change."

"The heart of the matter is that some groups don't accept that an indigenous person is president," he said.

Rioting began on Friday, after delegates to the constitutional assembly -- loyal to Morales and primarily from his governing Movement Toward Socialism party -- reconvened in a military garrison outside Sucre.

They approved the framework for the constitution by a simple majority on Saturday, breaking a monthslong deadlock. All but three opposition delegates boycotted the assembly sessions.

The document would allow the president unlimited re-election and would give central authorities greater control over public revenue disbursements at the expense of state governments.

Opponents say the new constitution unfairly reduces the power of Bolivia's nine states.

Branko Marinkovic, a top opposition leader in Santa Cruz, said the charter's approval was "made illegitimate with blood."

The assembly must complete the new constitution by Dec. 14 and then submit it to a referendum. Under a complicated formula, only those articles not backed by two-thirds of the assembly must be approved by Bolivian voters.

"The country is more divided than ever," said Ximena Costa, an independent political analyst. "We are talking now not about a polarization, but rather of fractures within Bolivian society."

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