(AFP) – Jun 22, 2008
TARIJA (AFP) — Gas-rich Tarija province on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favor of greater autonomy from the central government of President Evo Morales, ATB television reported, based on exit polls.
According to ATB's estimate, 80.3 percent of Tarija voters chose the "yes" ballot on the questionnaire, making their province the fourth in Bolivia to back greater autonomy from the Morales government.
The exit polls showed 19.7 percent voted against autonomy and 34.8 percent of the province's 173,000 registered voters abstained, ATB said.
In the township of Bermejo, where anti-autonomy sentiments ran high, the abstention rate was 47.8 percent, the television added.
Partial official results from the referendum are not expected until late Sunday, with final results set for Tuesday, the Electoral Court President Mario Guzman said after voting ended at 4:00 pm (2000 GMT).
The announcement by ATB and other media, which also gave the "yes" vote between 79 and 80 percent, was greeted with cheers by hundreds of people gathered in Tarija's central Luis de Fuentes square, opposite the mayor and governor's offices.
Tarija, Santa Cruz, Beni and Pando are resisting measures to redistribute land and resources pushed by Morales that would benefit the poor, mostly indigenous Bolivians of the mountainous western regions.
The Morales government has slammed the referendums as a waste of time and money, saying it would not recognize the results.
To counter the movement, Morales in May announced his own plebiscite for August 10, on his government and on provincial governors, placing his office and that of his vice president on the line.
Tarija has only 400,000 inhabitants but holds 85 percent of the country's natural gas, accounting for 13 percent of the gross domestic product.
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