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LA PAZ, Bolivia, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Bolivia's military and police on Wednesday warned protesters that they would not recognize any breakaway governments formed by the country's wealthiest regions in a push for autonomy from the capital.
The heads of both forces declared obedience to President Carlos Mesa two days before he faces the biggest threat to his authority when demonstrators in energy-rich Santa Cruz and Tarija hold town hall assemblies to create their own governments.
In Santa Cruz, a region that accounts for one-third of Bolivia's economy, a movement led by the European-descended, conservative elite opposes Mesa for his handling of the economy and for pandering to the indigenous majority's demands for more state control of natural gas resources.
Civic leaders in Tarija, home to 85 percent of Bolivia's huge gas reserves, mimicked their neighbors in Santa Cruz but denied they wanted to divide the nation.
The calls for autonomy -- the first in Bolivia's 179-year-old republic -- spun out of two weeks of protests against Mesa's fuel price hikes in Santa Cruz and El Alto, the militant indigenous city that overlooks the capital.
But while El Alto's indigenous leaders ended their protest, the elite of Santa Cruz drew 30,000 people to a march on Friday and announced their plans for a popular autonomous government.
Update (6:30 pm, Jan. 27, 2005): I don't have any great specialist knowledge on Latin America (and generally I feel far less comfortable talking about it than I would about the US, Europe, or the Middle East - areas that I have read a lot more about) but I figured I should do some linking to add in a bit of context and flesh out this story for my readers.
So, why not go and read "Power and autonomy in Bolivia: Santa Cruz and its sedition". Just so you know, it's from Narconews, which is an excellent site for information on Latin America. It's quite openly biased to the Left, which is ok, and at least they are upfront about it.