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LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivia on Friday said it had been re-admitted to the U.N. anti-narcotics convention after persuading member states to recognize the right of its indigenous people to chew raw coca leaf, which is used in making cocaine.
President Evo Morales had faced opposition from Washington in his campaign against the classification of coca as an illicit drug.
"The coca leaf has accompanied indigenous peoples for 6,000 years," said Dionisio Nunez, Bolivia's deputy minister of coca and integrated development. "Coca leaf was never used to hurt people. It was used as medicine."
The leaf was declared an illegal narcotic in the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, along with cocaine, heroin, opium and morphine and a host of chemical drugs.
Bolivia withdrew from the convention a year ago and said it would not rejoin unless coca chewing was decriminalized.
Opposition came from the United States as well as France and Russia. Bolivia said it automatically rejoined the convention when a deadline ran out for opposing countries to block its petition for readmission with coca chewing permitted.
The country is the biggest cocaine producer after Peru and Colombia. But Morales, himself a former coca leaf farmer, says the plant offers health benefits.
Bolivians have chewed raw coca leaves for centuries as a mild stimulant that reduces hunger and altitude sickness.
Reporting By Daniel Ramos; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Xavier Briand