January 22, 2009 / 3:35 PM / 10 years ago

Bolivia launches state paper before crucial vote

LA PAZ, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales launched a state-run daily newspaper on Thursday, hoping to strike back against what he calls media bias three days before the country votes on his new constitution.

The paper, published with color photos on high-quality newsprint, is called “Cambio,” or “Change.” Its slogan is “The truth will liberate us.”

The first issue hit newsstands on the three-year anniversary of Morales taking office. The paper is meant to counter what he says is the anti-government slant of the local private media.

On Sunday, Bolivians will vote to approve or reject a new constitution that Morales says will improve the lot of the country’s impoverished indigenous majority and tighten the state’s grip on the economy. Bolivia is rich in natural resources but the poorest country in South America.

While in office, the country’s first indigenous president has nationalized energy, mining and telecommunications firms. He is also starting a state-run airline and plans to start cement and sugar companies.

The cover of Thursday’s edition ran a large picture of Morales holding hands with children and the title “Bolivia heads toward renewal.” One column was titled “Bolivia: the first post-capitalist state?”

The paper costs 2 Bolivianos, or 28 cents, about half the price of competing papers.

Morales on Thursday accused some Bolivian media of unfairly attacking his administration and printing “lies upon lies.”

His leftist allies in the region, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, have also tangled with opposition media in their countries.

Morales says many of Bolivia’s newspapers and broadcast networks strive to taint his image and he has scorned reporters for representing media owners who he says are aligned with his right-wing opponents.

Opposition newspapers often run editorials accusing him of being an anti-Catholic Communist or a puppet of Venezuela’s Chavez.

Last month, Morales threatened to stop giving news conferences for local journalists. In addition to the new daily paper, the Bolivian state already runs a news agency, a television station, a weekly journal and a network of radio stations.

Additional reporting by Alejandro Lifschitz; Editing by Hugh Bronstein and Sandra Maler

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