Bolivian leaders raise stakes in unity pact talks
LA PAZ |
LA PAZ Jan 15 (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales and opposition governors agreed on Tuesday to face referendums that could remove them from office if they fail to reach an accord to end a divisive political crisis.
The threat of a series of provincial referendums raised the stakes at a second consecutive day of talks to forge a national unity pact between the leftist leader and his rightist opponents.
Politics in South America's poorest country have been volatile since four out of Bolivia's nine provinces declared themselves autonomous last month to protest a draft of a new constitution approved by Morales' allies.
Both sides were evaluating proposals on Tuesday about how to revise the new proposed charter to incorporate some of the provinces' demands for greater economic and political freedom from the central government.
They were also trying to settle the thorny issue of how to share lucrative tax revenue from natural gas exports.
"Both sides are being intransigent. The opposition is being intransigent and the government is being intransigent," said Jose Luis Paredes, governor of La Paz province. "Neither side wants to give up any ground."
Opposition leaders called on Morales, who heads the Socialist party MAS, to be flexible during talks.
"We want a national accord for the country. Let's see if the president has the political will to revise the constitution," Ruben Costas, the governor of Santa Cruz province, said as the first-round of talks this week started late Monday.
The draft of the new constitution is expected to be voted on this year in a nationwide referendum.
Critics say the new charter lacks legitimacy because allies of Morales passed it in an constitutional assembly late last year boycotted by opposition delegates.
Morales, an Aymara Indian whose support is strongest in the Andean highlands of western Bolivia, has clashed with opposition governors from the natural gas-rich eastern lowlands.
They want compensation for any gas revenue Morales diverts from the provinces and redirects to cities and social programs for indigenous groups who form the backbone of his political support. (Reporting by Terry Wade and Armando Perez Fernandez; Editing by Kevin Gray and Jackie Frank)
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