South American leaders back president of Bolivia

Agence France-Presse, September 16, 2008

SOUTH American presidents holding a crisis summit here over unrest in Bolivia issued a strong statement giving Bolivian President Evo Morales their support.

The statement agreed by Morales and the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela also rejected any break-up of Bolivia's territory.

The nine presidents in the Chilean capital Santiago expressed "their full and firm support for the constitutional government of President Evo Morales, whose mandate was ratified by a big majority."

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said after the six hours of talks that "the agreement was unanimous."

She had called the summit under the auspices of the newly formed Union of South American Nations, which is currently presided over by Chile.

The leaders also said they were looking at creating a committee to attend talks between Morales's Government and rebel governors in Bolivia's east opposing his socialist reforms.

Bolivia last week was gripped by violent unrest that left at least 18 people dead and a hundred wounded in the northern state of Pando.

The disturbances occurred in five eastern states whose conservative governors are seeking autonomy.

Mr Morales has called their push an illegal attempt at secession.

On arrival in Santiago, he accused his foes at home of mounting a "civic coup d'etat" against him.

The summit statement said the presidents "warn that our respective government energetically reject and will not recognize any situation that attempts a civil coup and the rupture of institutional order and which could compromise the territorial integrity of the Republic of Bolivia."

They also condemned the deaths in Pando and called for a commission to investigate allegations many of the victims were pro-Morales peasants gunned down in an ambush.

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