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Bolivian voters have rejected changing the constitution so President Evo Morales can run for a fourth term.

About 51.5% voted against the move with almost all the votes counted, the electoral authority said.

Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first president of indigenous origin, has said he will respect the referendum result.

The constitutional change would have allowed Evo Morales to run for re-election in 2019 and potentially remain in power until 2025.

Observers said the count has been slow but that there was no evidence of fraud.

Pollsters had suggested a victory for the “No” camp based on unofficial quick counts, prompting celebrations by “No” campaigners in various Bolivian cities.

Evo Morales is still a popular leader and the economy has grown steadily over the past decade.Evo Morales Bolivia referendum

However, many, especially in the main cities, think Evo Morales should not be allowed to serve 19 consecutive years as president, analysts say.

Opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina urged Evo Morales to “recognize the results” and focus on solving Bolivia’s problems in his remaining time in office instead of trying to run for another term.

An indigenous Aymara and former coca leaf producer, Evo Morales took office in January 2006, and his current term ends in 2020.

Observers say there is no clear successor to him and that the opposition lacks a single leader.

Despite a drop in the international price of oil and natural gas, the Bolivian economy has performed well in the past 10 years, growing on average 5% a year.

The government’s socialist policies have also been successful in reducing extreme poverty.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has narrowly lost a referendum to allow him to stand for a fourth term in office, exit polls suggest.

One poll suggests 52.3% voted against the proposal to amend the constitution, while another suggests it was 51%.

However, Evo Morales’s deputy has predicted Bolivia’s first head of state of indigenous origin could still win, as official results trickle in.

The constitution change would have let Evo Morales remain in power until 2025.

Opposition supporters have been celebrating the referendum result in parts of the main city, La Paz.

Evo Morales, an indigenous Aymara and former coca leaf producer, took office in January 2006 after being elected for the first time in 2005. He won a referendum in August 2008 on whether he should stay in office, and then a few months later a referendum approved his plans for a new constitution. He was re-elected for a second term in 2009.Evo Morales fourth term referendum

In 2014, Evo Morales was able to run again despite the 2009 constitution limiting presidents to two consecutive terms in office. The Constitutional Court ruled his first term should not count because it had not taken place under the new constitution. His current terms ends in 2020.

Evo Morales is still a popular leader and the economy has grown steadily over the past decade.

However, many thought he should not be allowed to serve 19 consecutive years as president.

Opposition leader Samuel Doria Medina urged Evo Morales to “recognize the results” and focus on solving Bolivia’s problems in his remaining time in office instead of trying to run for another term.

However, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera said the results so far were a “technical tie”.

He urged people to wait for the official results and said any celebrations by the opposition were premature.

Vote counting has been slower than usual.

The electoral authorities say the delay is affecting mostly ballots from rural areas, which largely support the president.

In the eastern province of Santa Cruz, angry voters set fire to ballot papers and ballot boxes after a delay to the opening of several polling stations.

Despite a drop in the international price of oil and natural gas, the Bolivian economy has performed well in the past 10 years, growing on average 5% a year.

The government’s socialist policies have also been successful in reducing extreme poverty.

However, recent allegations that Evo Morales used his influence to favor a Chinese construction company in Bolivia have damaged his approval ratings.

A former girlfriend of Evo Morales, Gabriela Zapata, holds an important position in the company, CAMC, which has secured more than $500 million in contracts with the Bolivian government.

Evo Morales rejected the allegations and said he had nothing to hide. He ordered an investigation into how the contracts were awarded.

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Leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales has given a crucifix sculpted in the shape of a hammer and sickle to Pope Francis during his visit to Bolivia.

The gift combining Catholic and communist symbols has caused a stir among Catholic commentators.

One Catholic bishop suggested that Evo Morales had sought to “manipulate God”.

While some reports said Pope Francis was taken aback by the present, the Vatican has played down any row.

The crucifix was based on a design by Luis Espinal, a Jesuit Priest assassinated in 1980 by right-wing militia.

Bolivia’s communications minister, Marianela Paco, told Bolivian radio: “The sickle evokes the peasant, the hammer the carpenter, representing humble workers, God’s people.”Pope Francis gifted Communist crucifix in Bolivia

She added there was “no other” motive behind the gift.

There are differing interpretations of Pope Francis’ thoughts on it.

Some reports say Pope Francis was embarrassed, telling Evo Morales: “This isn’t good.”

However, the Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, said it was more likely Pope Francis had expressed surprise at the origins of the gift.

“I don’t think I would put this symbol on an altar in a church however,” he added.

Pope Francis himself has been accused of having Marxist leanings, after mounting strong criticisms of capitalism and inequality.

One of the strongest reactions came from Spanish bishop Jose Ignacio Munilla, who tweeted: “The height of arrogance is to manipulate God for the service of atheist ideologies.”

“This is a provocation, a joke” said Bolivian Bishop Gonzalo del Castillo, quoted by the AFP news agency.

There was also anger on the Facebook pages of the Catholic News Agency.

Pope Francis is now in Paraguay, the third and final country on his tour of Latin America, which ends on July 13.

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Bolivia will start to build a new presidential palace for President Evo Morales.

Evo Morales, who signed the contract, said it was inspired by the architecture of the Tiahuanaco civilization of pre-Hispanic Bolivia.

The new palace will replace the current colonial building, in use since the 16th Century.

The new building will be decorated to remind Bolivians – a majority indigenous nation – of their heritage.

President Evo Morales, who has just started his third term in office, said the old building, known as “The Burnt Palace” because it was sacked and burnt during a revolt in 1875, was “full of European symbols and felt as small as a mousehole” .

He said the new palace, which would be called “The Great House of the People”, had been designed by Bolivian architects and would be decorated with indigenous motifs to pay homage to Bolivian traditional culture.

Bolivia’s Burnt Palace was sacked and burnt during a revolt in 1875

Bolivia’s Burnt Palace was sacked and burnt during a revolt in 1875 (photo Reuters)

It will be built behind the current palace, which will be turned into a museum.

Evo Morales said the new building was “not a luxury”. He said the 29-floor building would also house cabinet meeting rooms and rooms for exclusive presidential use.

The plans for the new palace include a heliport, a centre for indigenous ceremonies and a 1,000-seat auditorium.

The new presidential palace is expected to cost about $36 million.

A government spokesman, Joan Ramon Quintana, said the current palace was where “former governments despoiled the Bolivian state of its wealth, its heritage and its memory”.

Evo Morales said that within the building, acts of betrayal, corruption, and murder had occurred – as well as heroic acts.

“The most terrible history was written there as well as the most noble,” he said.

The new palace is also expected to house a room to celebrate the history and social significance of the coca leaf.

President Evo Morales is a former coca growers’ union leader. Coca plays an important role in Andean societies. In addition to its medicinal value – as a stimulant, anaesthetic and appetite suppressant – it has a leading role in social interaction and religious ceremonies.

Evo Morales is claiming a third term in office win in Bolivia’s presidential elections.

“This win is a triumph for anti-imperialists and anti-colonialists,” Evo Morales told cheering supporters at the presidential palace in La Paz.

Exit polls show Evo Morales on 60%, well ahead of his rivals, as votes are counted.

To avoid a run-off, Evo Morales must win 50% of valid votes, or 40% if that includes a 10-point lead over his nearest rival.

Evo Morales has overseen strong economic growth since taking office in 2006 and has been widely tipped to win.

He has presided over a period of economic growth and reduced poverty, using Bolivia’s commodity wealth to reduce poverty levels.

However, he has been criticized for failing to halt corruption.

Evo Morales’s party, the Movement Toward Socialism, is also expected to make gains and win a strong majority in Congress.

The poll passed without major incident, according to the electoral authorities and foreign observers.

Evo Morales has overseen strong economic growth since taking office in 2006

Evo Morales has overseen strong economic growth since taking office in 2006

Since 2006, Evo Morales’s government has focused on education subsidies, increased pensions and spending on public works.

He has been boosted by a boom in commodities prices that has helped propel export revenues nine-fold.

The revenue has helped fund policies that have created an average annual economic growth of 5%, well above the regional average.

It has also funded public works projects, including a cable car system for the capital, La Paz.

Some 500,000 people have been taken out of poverty.

The oil, gas, mining, telecommunications and water sectors have all been nationalized.

Evo Morales’s critics say he has introduced measures which are harmful to the environment and presided over a corrupt administration.

He is also accused of using millions of dollars in government cash to fund his re-election campaign and that this has helped create a fractured opposition.

Heading into the elections, Samuel Doria Medina was Evo Morales’ closest rival.

Samuel Doria Medina vowed to clean up the judiciary if elected.

Evo Morales will want to maintain his two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly, which are also holding elections.

This could allow him to alter the constitution to permit a fourth term in office.

Evo Morales has already benefited from a court ruling that permitted him to run for a third term.

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Bolivia has decided to bring two Spanish-owned electricity supply companies under state control.

President Evo Morales accused the subsidiaries of the Spanish company, Iberdrola, of overcharging consumers in rural areas.

Evo Morales said rural households had been paying three times more for their electricity than people in urban areas.

The left-wing president has previously nationalized oil, telecommunications and energy-generating companies.

“We had to see that the quality of electricity service is uniform in rural as well as urban areas,” Evo Morales said.

He added that his decree was in line with the South American country’s constitution, which says that the public interest is above private interests when it comes to the supply of energy.

“We were forced to take this measure,” he said, describing the electricity charges as “unfair and unequal”.

President Evo Morales accused the subsidiaries of the Spanish company, Iberdrola, of overcharging Bolivian consumers in rural areas

President Evo Morales accused the subsidiaries of the Spanish company, Iberdrola, of overcharging Bolivian consumers in rural areas

An independent arbiter will decide in up to 180 days how much compensation Iberdrola will get for its assets, Evo Morales said.

In its first reaction to the Bolivian government decision, Iberdrola said it hoped to be paid a fair price for the companies.

“We hope we will get the real value of our share,” a spokesman told the AFP news agency.

Iberdrola owned 89.5% of Electropaz, which operates in Bolivia’s largest city, La Paz, and surrounding areas, and 92.8% in Elfeo, based in the Oruro region.

Armed police guarded the companies’ headquarters and plants in both cities as Evo Morales announced their nationalization.