Morales leads march for Bolivian constitution

Dan Keane

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) — President Evo Morales led more than a 100,000 supporters on a march into the Bolivian capital on Monday to demand that Congress call a nationwide vote on a new constitution empowering the country's long-oppressed indigenous majority.

The proposed constitution also would let the popular Morales to run for re-election. Talks between lawmakers broke down Sunday as conservative opposition leaders hoped to limit the number of terms the leftist president could seek.

Morales, a veteran street protester, rose before dawn Monday to join a miles-long column of flag-waving miners, petroleum workers, and peasant farmers from across the country for the final stretch of a weeklong, 125-mile (200-kilometer) march across Bolivia's chilly high plains.

"It's not possible for a group of lawmakers to not hear this clamorous demand of the people to re-found Bolivia through a new constitution," Morales told the Associated Press as he marched in black sneakers and a traditional red woolen poncho.

His supporters "only want the constitution to be put before the people, so the people can say yes or no. It's the most democratic way," Morales said.

Morales drew 67 percent support in an August recall vote, and his new constitution is expected to pass easily. But the president's narrow majority in Congress is not enough to call the constitutional referendum, which requires a two-thirds vote.

Conservative lawmakers have balked at Morales' argument that the new framework would require immediate nationwide elections — placing his opponents at risk of losing their seats while allowing Morales to start over on two full five-year terms.

Opposition critics say the new constitution should not go into effect until the end of Morales' current term in 2011. That would allow the country's first indigenous president only one more five-year term.

The document also includes a lengthy section on rights of indigenous groups. It would grant them autonomy over their traditional lands and a "priority" share of the country's natural resource wealth.

"Before, everything was only for the upper class, and only the leftovers for the campesino," said marcher Justo Orquiza, 28.

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