20 injured in clashes during referendum in Bolivian province

May 5th, 2008 - 11:18 am ICT by admin  

Santa Cruz (Bolivia), May 5 (IANS) At least 20 people were injured Sunday in violence during the referendum in this eastern Bolivian province which seeks more autonomy from the rest of the impoverished country, EFE news agency reported. The referendum is part of a power struggle between Bolivia’s poor, indigenous majority and the wealthier Bolivians of European descent who populate the eastern part of the country, including relatively affluent Santa Cruz province that wants to keep more control over security, energy reserves and local finances.

In almost all the towns dominated by ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party, groups of enraged citizens burned ballot boxers and destroyed polling places, while in most of the provincial capital voting transpired normally, media reports said.

Medical officials confirmed to television network ATB that the greatest number of injuries occurred during a pitched battle fought with stones and cudgels among supporters of President Evo Morales and autonomist groups in the lower-class Plan 3,000 neighbourhood in Santa Cruz city.

The clashes came after the decision by residents of that neighbourhood to destroy the ballot boxes set up for the voting, which was suspended temporarily in that locale.

Five people were also reportedly injured in the town of Montero, while in the town of San Julian one person, a Morales follower, sustained serious internal injuries when he fell from a bus and was run over.

The vehicle, according to reports collected at the scene, was carrying a group of Morales sympathisers who shortly before that had destroyed ballot boxes at a polling place so that the autonomy referendum could not be carried out there.

There were also injuries reported in the town of Yapacani, another Morales stronghold where the referendum was suspended because peasants attacked the voting precincts.

Sunday’s referendum in Santa Cruz would also allow the province to hold the election of the governor directly, taking away the president’s power to appoint regional leaders.

Recent polls showed the “Yes” vote drawing 70 percent support despite fears of violence and strong opposition from the president and his supporters.

Morales contends the referendum is illegal and that he will not recognise any autonomy statutes approved in the voting in Santa Cruz or in future plebiscites scheduled for later this year in other opposition-led provinces.

Tension has been growing since Morales, a former leader of Bolivian coca growers, was elected in late 2005 as the country’s first indigenous president.

Morales began nationalising Bolivian energy resources two years ago to pay for government programmes in support of the Indio majority, who live mostly in the resource-poor western highlands.

Last week the leftist leader also announced the nationalistaion of four international energy companies and a telecommunications firm.

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