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Morales poll win fails to ease tensions

Confirmed in office in a landslide recall election vote, the Bolivian President Evo Morales now plans to push through major constitutional reforms early next year that will further antagonise his rightist opponents.

The reforms would give more clout to Bolivia's indigenous majority, enable Mr Morales to run for re-election and undermine provincial autonomy drives. They have driven a deep wedge between Mr Morales and some of the country's regional governors.

"We should start 2009... by calling a referendum on whether to approve the state's new constitution policy," Presidential Minister Juan Ramon Quintana told state television yesterday.

With four pro-autonomy governors who oppose Mr Morales also winning Sunday's recall vote, Bolivian politics remains deadlocked. Some fear more of last week's violent protests.

The governors who are blocking Mr Morales' socialist reforms, are furious he has cut their share of windfall natural gas revenues and accuse him of governing for his supporters.

Mr Quintana said: "If we can't reach substantive agreements... then we must address all those issues which divide us to a referendum – issues like re-election, the compatibility of autonomous governments, land issues."

Such a vote would be highly divisive in a Bolivia already polarised along economic and racial fault lines between Mr Morales' Indian power base in the impoverished west of the country and resource-rich provinces in the east.

After winning Sunday's referendum with over 75 per cent support according to unofficial results, Ruben Costas, governor of Santa Cruz province in Bolivia's agricultural heartland, promised his supporters regional autonomy and dismissed Mr Morales' planned constitution."It is very probable we won't be able to find harmony between [regional] autonomy statutes and a new constitution," said Mr Quintana. "That's why we need a new referendum on the new constitution."