Talks within the country were already under way in La Paz late on Sunday between the country's vice-president and Mario Cossio, the governor of Tarija province representing governors of resource-rich provinces who are against Morales' plans to redistribute wealth to the country's poor indigenous people.

Rising toll

The toll from clashes in Pando province – where Morales declared martial law on Friday – had risen to at least 30, Alfredo Rada, the interior minister said on Sunday, as the authorities accused protesters of setting fire to a town hall and blocking highways in opposition-controlled provinces, impeding fuel and food distribution.

Food and fuel deliveries have been disrupted by protesters blocking roads [AFP]
Morales dispatched troops on Friday and accused anti-government forces of killing his supporters.

Officials said the toll was expected to rise as more bodies continued to be found in the hills and the river.

Ivan Canelas, a presidential spokesman, said without providing details that opposition-led highway blockades continued on Sunday and that "an armed group" had set fire to the town hall in Filadelfia, a municipality near Cobija.

"There are people who want to continue sowing pain across the region," he said.

The La Paz newspaper La Razon quoted the country's highways chief as saying blockades had halted transit on major roads in the opposition-governed eastern provinces of Tarija, Beni and Santa Cruz.

US rejects accusations

Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Bolivia is on his way out of the country.

Morales and Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president and staunch Morales ally, ordered the US ambassadors expelled from their countries last week.

Some provinces oppose Morales' push to empower the indigenous majority [AFP]
Morales has offered no detailed evidence of Philip Goldberg's alleged conspiracy with the opposition, but has accused Goldberg of egging on anti-Morales forces through meetings with governors who have publicly called for the president to be removed.

But Goldberg denied the charge and called the decision to expel him a big mistake on Sunday in his first public comments on the matter.

"I would like to say that all the accusations made against me, against the embassy and against my nation are completely false and unjustified," he told reporters in La Paz as he prepared to leave.

The gravest challenge to Morales' nearly three years as Bolivia's first indigenous president stems from his struggle with the four eastern lowland provinces where the country's natural gas riches are concentrated and where his government has in effect lost control.

The provinces are seeking greater autonomy from Morales' leftist government and are insisting he cancel a December 7 referendum on a new constitution that would help him centralise power, run for a second consecutive term and transfer fallow terrain to landless peasants.
 
Morales says the new charter is needed to empower Bolivia's indigenous majority.