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Bolivia takes first step to rewrite constitution

Written by: Staff
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LA PAZ, Bolivia, March 5 (Reuters) Bolivian President Evo Morales has won the first battle in an ambitious project to rewrite the South American country's constitution to give more power to the poor, indigenous majority.

Along with pledges to nationalize the oil and gas industry, establishing a constitutional assembly to ''refound Bolivia'' was a key election promise of leftist Morales, who took office as the country's first Indian president in January.

After days of bitter wrangling in Congress, the government managed to secure the opposition support it needed on Saturday to agree to the make-up of a national assembly charged with rewriting the nation's constitution. Elections for the assembly will be held on July 2 and a referendum on greater regional autonomy will take place on the same day.

''Here begins the social and cultural revolution,'' Morales told reporters, praising deputies for reaching a compromise in order to ''deliver the second liberation of the Bolivian people.'' He was due to sign the accord into law on Monday.

The government had to water down its proposal on the assembly's composition in the face of strong opposition from critics, some of whom have accused it of seeking to impose a left-wing agenda on the country's constitution.

There was also resistance from smaller provinces that wanted greater representation in the 255-member assembly, which will meet in the traditionally neutral city of Sucre, where Bolivia's independence was declared in 1825.

MORE REUTERS CH RK2118

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