Evo Morales, who won the recent presidential election, said late on Tuesday: "This is a democratic revolution and we will answer the Bolivian people's call.

"It's a question of sharing the country's situation among us all."

Morales, who has vowed to make multinationals pay more into the national economy and to raise Bolivia from its status as one of Latin America's poorest nations, won an 18 December election and will be inaugurated on 22 January.

The 46-year-old coca grower and Aymara Indian said his future salary of about $3600 a month would be slashed to $1800.

Cabinet ministers and all 157 members of Morales' Movement to Socialism party elected to Congress will also take a 50% pay cut, Morales said, adding that the salaries of 157 substitute congressmen - who take over the duties of lawmakers when they are absent - will be reduced to zero. 

Easing businessmen's fears

Morales also seemed to gain crucial support from Bolivia's powerful business and civic leaders on Tuesday with a conciliatory meeting calculated to overcome widespread fears about the fiery former street activist's economic policies.

"I do not have a professional education, but it is important that we co-operate. You have the professional capacity, I have the social consciousness"

Evo Morales,
Bolivia's president-elect

He had been viewed with great suspicion by the Bolivian elite, but they applauded on Tuesday night after Morales said his government would create a stable legal and economic environment to attract investment and create jobs.

"I do not want to harm anybody. I do not want to expropriate or confiscate any assets," Morales told the businessmen and civic leaders of Santa Cruz, a relatively wealthy city that has sought more autonomy in the poor country.

"I want to learn from the businessmen."

Morales promised a referendum on their autonomy demands, and said he would quickly resolve a dispute over development of El Mutun, a rich iron mining project near the border with Brazil that would create 2000 jobs in the Santa Cruz area.

Public bidding for the project had been postponed, angering regional leaders, after Morales and the outgoing government jointly agreed to take more time to learn the details.

The president-to-be adopted a conciliatory tone on Tuesday night.

"I do not have a professional education, but it is important that we co-operate," said Morales, who left school after the 11th grade. "You have the professional capacity, I have the social consciousness."

Gabriel Dabdoub, the president of the region's powerful chamber of commerce, said: "He promised more than what we asked for. Let's now hope he will fulfil his promises."