Bolivia land reform protests grow
By Damian Kahya
BBC News, La Paz
Opposition senators in Bolivia have threatened to boycott the senate in protest against plans to redistribute land and rewrite the constitution.
The threat came as thousands marched through the streets of the second city of Santa Cruz to demonstrate against the controversial land reforms.
President Evo Morales hopes to redistribute up to 20 million hectares.
His supporters are heading to the capital, La Paz, to demand that the senate pass the land reform law. Grievances
The march was organised by regional businesses and autonomy groups in protest at proposed land reform laws.
Landowners in Santa Cruz province, one of the country's most fertile, recently threatened to withhold agricultural produce from the rest of Bolivia if the plans were approved.
But this is not the opposition's only grievance.
Mr Morales proposes to rewrite the country's constitution, but has only a slight majority in the assembly to do so.
His party recently passed a motion allowing them to rewrite the document alone, with a two thirds vote only required at the final stage, followed by a referendum.
This will sideline the opposition.
One party has declared a hunger strike - the owner of Bolivia's Burger King franchise leading the action.
Another, the largest, has announced that it is to boycott the senate.
Opposition regional governors are also incensed. The president has proposed a new law limiting their power.
Six of the country's nine governors have now united against the central government.
But the president's own supporters are also marching to La Paz to demand the senate pass the land reform law. Most of this is still posturing. But if a compromise is not reached soon, larger and more serious protests are likely.
Bolivia assemblies oppose reforms Two regions of Bolivia have formally stated their opposition to the president's plans to redistribute land and rewrite the constitution.
President Evo Morales wants to redistribute up to 20m hectares of land to indigenous and peasant communities.
The local assembly in Santa Cruz has threatened to call a referendum on the new constitution, and is appealing to residents to stage hunger strikes.
In Beni, the assembly urged Mr Morales to respect the current constitution.
The controversial agrarian reform bill has been approved by the lower house of congress, but opposition parties that control the Senate say they will block it.
Mr Morales established a constituent assembly in August, but lacks the support of two-thirds of delegates he needs to push through changes to the constitution.
He wants each article to be passed by a simple majority, with two-thirds support needed only to ratify the final document. The opposition accuses the government of changing the rules illegally. President Morales has ruled out any compromise with the opposition or big landowners.
The Bolivian Senate has approved a controversial reform bill proposed by President Evo Morales to redistribute under-used land to rural communities.
A week-long stand-off ended when three opposition senators broke ranks with their conservative parties to vote in favour of the bill.
Thousands of indigenous protesters had marched on La Paz on Tuesday to put pressure on the senate to pass the law.
It could lead to the redistribution of up to 20m hectares of land to the poor.
Big landowners oppose the move, saying it will destroy Bolivian agriculture, and have threatened to use force to defend their property. 'Time for change'
The opposition has accused Mr Morales of manipulating his indigenous supporters to push through the reforms.
This is the struggle of our ancestors, the struggle for power and territory
President Evo Morales
The bill, passed by the lower house of congress two weeks ago, had been blocked by a boycott of the senate by conservative groups.
But three opposition senators changed their allegiance following Tuesday's protest rally, giving the president the support of 15 of the senate's 27 seats.
News that the law had finally been approved late in the evening surprised even the president's own supporters camped outside the senate, the BBC's Damian Kahya in La Paz says.
Shortly after signing the bill into law, Mr Morales told a jubilant crowd that it was "not possible to have so much land in so few hands".
"This is the struggle of our ancestors, the struggle for power and territory," he said. "Now, the change is in our hands." Strike planned
The new law states that only unused or corruptly obtained land will be targeted.
The government argues too much land is owned merely as security on loans or to be re-sold.
A recent survey by the Catholic Church found that just 50,000 families own almost 90% of Bolivia's productive land.
Opponents accuse Mr Morales of trampling on democracy in his desire to advance his reform agenda.
Conservative groups have been holding their own protests over the agrarian reforms and proposed changes to the constitution. A strike by opposition groups and civic movements is planned for Friday.