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Divided congress approves vote on new Bolivian constitution

Divided congress approves vote on new Bolivian constitution

A bitterly divided Bolivian Congress on Thursday approved a national vote on President Evo Morales' proposed constitution, which would grant greater political power to Bolivia's long-oppressed indigenous groups.
Lawmakers from Morales' Movement Toward Socialism party passed the referendum in a raucous session, thwarting opposition groups that last year walked out on the constitutional assembly and now refuse to recognize the framework.
Most opposition lawmakers were blocked from attending Thursday's session by a crowd of flag-waving Morales supporters and miners in hardhats who seized the plaza outside the congressional building.
If approved by voters, Morales' constitution would outline a detailed bill of rights and considerable autonomy for the country's 36 indigenous groups, long shut out of power by the country's white elite.
Opposition leaders say the charter places Indians over the rest of the population and fails to address demands for autonomy from four eastern states, which are fighting Morales' land redistribution plan and want to keep more of the region's gas revenues.
Morales has called for a May 4 referendum _ the same day the eastern state of Santa Cruz, home to his fiercest opposition, will hold a vote on a proposal to declare autonomy. Three other opposition-controlled eastern states are expected to follow suit later in the year.
Morales' supporters cheered in the streets as delegates from the ruling party quickly approved the referendum by a show of hands.
"It is the people who have demanded this referendum," Movement Toward Socialism congressman Gustavo Torrico declared over jeers from the handful of opposition politicians who managed to get inside. "Let's go outside now and give the good news to the people."
Congress also called for a national vote on whether a clause in the proposed constitution should cap land ownership at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares (12,350 or 24,700 acres). Bolivia currently has no limit on land ownership, but Morales' ambitious agrarian reform seeks to seize idle or fraudulently obtained property and redistribute it to the poor.
Riot police largely abandoned the plaza in front of the Congress on Thursday afternoon, granting control of the building's access to the pro-Morales crowd. Miners lit small sticks of dynamite, and a group of women protesters briefly accosted one opposition lawmaker who tried to enter the building, pulling her hair.
Immediately after the referendum passed, however, riot police reappeared to clear the Congress steps.
Opposition lawmakers decried the apparent coordination between Morales' ruling party and the protesters outside.
"These actions are destroying the hope of our people," said Oscar Ortiz, senator from the conservative opposition party Podemos. "All (the Movement Toward Socialism) will achieve is more confrontation."


Updated : 2021-06-22 01:16 GMT+08:00