A leader of Bolivia's coca growers Morales leads presidential poll

A leader of Bolivia's coca growers who is pushing for greater state control of the country's vast natural gas reserves and more rights for the Indian majority leads rivals ahead of next month's presidential vote, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Leftist Congressman Evo Morales was favored with 33 percent, while former president Jorge Quiroga garnered support of 27 percent in the poll by Equipos Mori. Businessman Samuel Doria Medina was a distant third with 12 percent.

The survey was conducted between Nov. 13 and 18 among 3,000 people nationwide. It had a margin of error of 1.78 percentage points.

Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, has seen two presidents driven out of office by street protests in the past two years.

Morales is the candidate for the Movement toward Socialism Party and was a key figure in the massive protests that forced the resignation of president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in 2003 and of his successor Carlos Mesa this year.

Morales has vowed that if elected he will stop the U.S.-backed policy of eradication of coca leaf. Coca is used to make cocaine, but it is also has traditional uses among Bolivia's Indians.

Quiroga is the candidate a center-right coalition called Social Democratic Power. He ruled briefly from 2001 to 2002 after the death of President Hugo Banzer, for whom he served as vice president.

A poll last week by IPSOS Captura showed Morales with 30.7 percent support to Quiroga's 28.7 percent, a statistical dead-heat given the poll's 2 percent margin of error.

On Dec. 18 voters will elect a president, vice president, provincial governors and the 27 members of the Senate and 130 members of the lower house of Congress.

If none of the presidential candidates receive 51 percent of the vote, the newly elected Congress will choose the president between the top two vote getters. reported AP. P.T.

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