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Bolivia's Wealthy Region Votes for Autonomy


Voters in Bolivia's wealthy region of Santa Cruz Sunday overwhelmingly approved a measure seeking greater economic and political autonomy, according to exit polls. VOA's Brian Wagner reports from Miami President Evo Morales has refused to recognize what he calls an illegal vote.

Supporters of the autonomy vote celebrated in the streets of Santa Cruz after local television stations reported the results of exit polls showing the referendum had passed by a large margin. Vote organizers say the victory gives local governments a mandate to seek greater control over political and financial decisions in the wealthy department, which is home to farm lands and oil and gas fields.

Election officials said activity at most polling stations was normal except for sporadic clashes in some areas, when supporters and critics of the measure threw rocks at each other during separate marches.

The vote is widely seen as a rejection of President Evo Morales's policies.

Mr. Morales himself has denounced the vote, saying it had split the region and threatened the nation. He says the illegal vote was a failure because violence marred what organizers had hoped would be a day of celebration.

Mr. Morales also questioned the apparent victory of the autonomy measure, saying that nearly 40 percent of voters in the region did not turn up at the polls.

The president called on municipal leaders in Santa Cruz and elsewhere to work together in drafting a new constitution. Opposition leaders have refused to recognize a draft charter, in part due to the autonomy issue and disputes over other proposals.

Three other departments in eastern Bolivia are expected to hold separate votes on autonomy in coming weeks, and leaders in two others are considering votes as well.

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