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Bolivian opposition talks to Morales

world Updated: Aug 14, 2008 15:31 IST

Opposition governors in Bolivia met President Evo Morales late on Wednesday for talks aimed at healing a deep political rift that has left their country in crisis.

The governors of the states of Santa Cruz, Tarija, Beni, Pando and Chuquisaca met with Morales in the capital city of La Paz, accepting an offer made by Morales to speak with them "unconditionally" following a weekend referendum that strengthened all their mandates, the president's included.

There was however little progress at the event, said Tarija Governor Mario Cossio. The meeting will resume on Thursday, officials said.

At the meeting the governors urged Morales to allocate more energy tax money to their regions, and urged him to recognize regional autonomy.

Morales in turn discussed the country's new constitution, approved in December but which still needs referendums to enter into effect.

The talks reflect a polarization of Bolivia, between the indigenous majority backing Morales and voters in the wealthier eastern states -- many of whom are of European or mixed descent -- backing the governors' plan for autonomy.

Tensions between both communities have left Morales unable to impose his authority over nearly all of the eastern half the country. He has been prevented from visiting several towns in opposition states because of protests.

The five governors -- out of a total of nine in Bolivia -- oppose the president's bid to rewrite the constitution to give more of the country's wealth to the downtrodden indigenous group.

Their states sit upon big gas fields that account for 60 per cent of Bolivia's export income, and they have focused their anger on a new gas output tax meant to fund pensions.

Both sides have held talks three times in the past six months. Each was unsuccessful.

Brazil, Spain, the United States and the Organization of American States have all voiced their support for talks in Bolivia to overcome the crisis, and some have offered to play a mediating role if necessary.