UPDATE 1-Bolivia's Morales sets date for constitution vote
August 29, 2008 - Reuters

By Eduardo Garcia

LA PAZ, Aug 28 (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales on Thursday set the date for a national referendum to seek approval for a new constitution strongly opposed by his rightist rivals.

Leftist Morales made implementing a new constitution a pillar of his reform agenda when he took office in early 2006, saying it would empower the poor, indigenous majority that forms his support base.

He vowed to forge ahead with the constitution after winning a resounding victory in a recall vote earlier this month.

"We aim to refound Bolivia through a new constitution so that all Bolivians ... will have the same rights and the same duties," Morales said after signing a decree that sets the date for the referendum as Dec. 7.

He said the new constitution would stop future governments from "giving away" energy resources to international companies and prevent the construction of foreign military bases.

Lawmakers allied with Morales approved a constitutional draft late last year in an elected assembly boycotted by opposition delegates. They said the text would give too much power to Morales, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

A block of opposition politicians governing five of the country's nine regions have called the constitutional draft "racist" and "illegal" and earlier this week vowed to boycott any referendum on the constitution.

Approval of the constitutional draft last year sparked a political standoff, which has pitched Morales against governors based in the country's east, home to vast natural gas fields and rich farmland.

Protests have continued in Bolivia's opposition-controlled east despite Morales' 67 percent win in the nationwide recall.

His vows to overhaul the constitution and redistribute land to the poor have met with fierce resistance in these areas.

Late on Wednesday, anti-government protesters stormed two airports in northeastern Bolivia where the president had been due to land. (Editing by Helen Popper and Todd Eastham)