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US Congratulates Apparent Bolivian Election Victory

The United States Tuesday congratulated Evo Morales, the leftist politician who has apparently won Bolivia's presidential election. The State Department says the quality of the U.S.-Bolivian relationship under Mr. Morales will depend on the policies his government pursues.

Mr. Morales said during the campaign that he would at least partially legalize the country's coca industry, and that if elected he would be "a thorn in side" of United States.

But the Bush administration is taking a low-key response to Mr. Morales apparent victory in Sunday's vote, with the State Department extending congratulations to him and the Bolivian people, and saying the future course of the relationship is up to Bolivia.

Mr. Morales was the biggest vote getter in the multi-candidate race though it was unclear whether final returns would give him the more than 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid sending the issue to the Bolivian Congress.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack reiterated a congratulatory statement made earlier in the day by his White House counterpart, Scott McClellan.

He said U.S. officials hope that with the election, Bolivians can "begin to move beyond" the difficult period of the last two years in which two presidents were driven from office by political unrest.

"As for the future, we'll see what kind of policies the next Bolivian president pursues, and that the kind of relationship, and the quality of the relationship between the United States and Bolivia will depend on what kind of policies they pursue, including how they govern," he said. "Do they govern democratically, and do they have a respect for democratic institutions?"

Mr. Morales is a former head of the country's coca-growers federation, and has said he intends to legalize industrial uses of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine.

He told a news conference in La Paz Tuesday that despite his stance, there will be no cocaine or narco-trafficking in Bolivia.

Mr. Morales invited the United States to join in effectively battling drug traffic, but without the aggressive tactics of the past, which he said have been an excuse for U.S. intervention in other countries.

The United States has provided Bolivia with tens of millions of dollars a year in anti-drug aid, much of it directed to coca eradication programs resented by local farmers dependent on the crop.

Drug control experts say the personal and industrial uses for coca leaves cited by Mr. Morales are limited, and that most of the country's production ends up being processed into cocaine for illegal export.

Mr. Morales has established close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a leftist who has had an antagonistic relationship with the United States.

Under questioning, Spokesman McCormack said the United States has no inherent problem with leftist, or right-leaning Latin American governments for that matter, provided they govern effectively and democratically.