Bolivian leader defends record

Morales praises "democratic revolution" but ignores dispute with regions in speech.

    Morales' proposed constitutional changes have deeply divided Bolivians [AFP]

    Evo Morales says he has initiated a "democratic and cultural revolution" during his first two years as Bolivian president.

    In a speech to congress - which lasted several hours - celebrating the second anniversary of his taking power, he chose to largely ignore an argument with regional leaders that has seen several provinces demand autonomy.

    The country's first president of indigenous descent told congress on Tuesday that he had fulfilled key promises by nationalising the energy sector and drafting a constitution giving the Indian majority more power.

    The proposed new constitution was approved by Morales' allies during an opposition boycott last month and has provoked a call for greater independence in four of Bolivia's nine provinces and a stand-off with the central government.

    'Irreversible reforms'

    Morales did not address the conflict directly, but said his government's changes were irreversible.

    "There's no turning back on the path we started upon two years ago. The past cannot be repeated," he said.

    "There's room for everyone in this revolution. And only if we're united can we make the deep changes that people want."

    Morales came to power by winning 54 per cent of votes cast in an election in December 2005.

    Flying multicoloured Aymara flags and playing brass instruments, Morales' supporters crowded into a square in La Paz to greet the leader as he walked between the presidential palace and Congress.

    He reaffirmed his government's commitment to an "agrarian revolution", which takes unproductive lands from wealthy estate owners and gives them to small peasant farmers.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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