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Autonomy referendum sparks violence in Bolivia

By RIA Novost,

Moscow : Santa Cruz, Bolivia’s biggest and richest state, overwhelmingly voted for autonomy from the central government on Sunday, sparking violence that left one person dead and around 20 injured, national media reported on Monday.

The referendum, dubbed illegal by the government, was initiated last year following changes to the constitution for the redistribution of wealth among the richest and poorest regions of the country.

As voting took place, pro and anti-autonomy youths took part in running street battles in several towns in the province. The dead man was reported to be a seventy-year-old who was killed when police fired tear gas to break up fighting.

The landlocked nation has the second-largest reserves of natural gas in South America, but the indigenous people who make up two-thirds of the population largely exist in poverty as political and economic life is mostly dominated by descendents of Spanish colonists.

Evo Morales, who became the country’s first indigenous president in 2005 and is a staunch supporter of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, had pushed for amendments to the constitution that would launch a redistribution of land, as well as gas and oil revenues. The move triggered protests by the opposition.

Despite his subsequent pledge to ignore the referendum results, Morales is reported to have expressed a readiness to negotiate with opposition leaders.

“Let’s work together tomorrow for a true autonomy,” Morales said in a nationally televised address. “For the people, and not just certain groups, an autonomy that permits the people to decide their destiny.”