LA PAZ, Bolivia - With only scattered skirmishes reported, four provinces in this country's eastern lowlands celebrated proposals Saturday that would give
their regions more government autonomy in a direct challenge to President Evo Morales.
By early Saturday night, Bolivian television reported that Morales supporters and detractors had clashed in the town of Santa Rosa, injuring more than 20 people. An explosive had detonated in a federal superior court office in the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra without hurting anyone. Both are located in the heavily anti-Morales Santa Cruz province, Bolivia's richest and second biggest.
Many in this 9.1 million-person country had feared greater violence as Morales and opposition governors from eastern Bolivia championed dueling government reforms in mass rallies Saturday. The governors' quest for greater autonomy follows passage of a constitution last week giving Morales more centralized control.
Thousands of Morales supporters filled the streets of the capital of La Paz celebrating a new constitution hurriedly approved by the president's allies Dec. 9
without the participation of most opposition representatives.
After receiving the document on the balcony of the government palace Saturday afternoon, Morales called the constitution "the best Christmas gift to Bolivia." The constitution grants the country's indigenous majority more powers, lets presidents be re-elected once and imposes more government control over natural resources, among other measures.
"Today is a historical day, it is a miracle," Morales said. "A few weeks ago, I felt the (constitutional) assembly was buried, but today feels like a miracle."
Opposition leaders in the provinces of Beni, Pando, Tarija and Santa Cruz threw their own party Saturday but instead in honor of long-sought autonomy statutes that challenge the new constitution. Hundreds of anti-Morales hunger strikers ended their protests to join the rallies.
The governors' just-written statutes give provincial governments more control over tax revenue, let them form their own police and grant them some powers now reserved for the country's national government.
Morales has called the statutes illegal and had put the country's military on alert in case of disturbances this weekend.
At the La Paz rally, Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera accused opposition leaders of trying to divide the country and warned, "Nobody has the right to touch a single millimeter of the unity of the country."
The constitution and the autonomy statutes must all be voted on in referendums before taking effect.
In opposition-led Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the country's biggest city, thousands of people gathered in a town park Saturday and chanted "We are already autonomous!" while opposition leaders called the national constitution illegal.
Earlier Saturday, Morales supporters had set up a road block about 25 miles from the city to protest the autonomy statute. No major violence was reported at the roadblock.
"I want to say to the country and world that the fight for freedom was always pacific and will be pacific," said Branko Marinkovic, president of a powerful Santa Cruz civic committee. "Santa Cruz and its autonomy status have become a hope for a democratic Bolivia."
Jack Chang reported from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Special correspondent Patricio Crooker reported from La Paz, Bolivia.