Morales repeats vow to kill anti-coca programs

Coca-growing Socialist firebrand Evo Morales, celebrating his decisive first-place finish in Bolivia's presidential race, vowed Monday to respect private property but repeated his vow to kill a U.S.-backed crusade against coca plants, the raw material for &to=' target=_blank>cocaine.

Unofficial results showed Morales with a smashing victory over seven opponents that would make him the first Indian president in the 180-year history of independent Bolivia and solidify a continental shift to the political left.

Morales was congratulated by Venezuela's self-proclaimed revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez and by the more centrist Socialist president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos. No early call came from the United States, and Morales said, "neither was I expecting one."

But a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Jan Edmondson, later told reporters in Washington that "while official results have not yet been released, we congratulate Evo Morales on his apparent victory."

She said the U.S. has had good relations with Bolivia in the past and "we're prepared to work to build the same relationship with the next government."

Apparently trying to reassure foreign investors, Morales said that his government would respect private property even as it asserts state ownership over Bolivia's vast natural gas reserves. Multinational companies would be paid to help in exploration and to develop the industry, he said.

A governing Movement Toward Socialism party "is not only going to respect, but is going to protect private property," although "vacant, unproductive land" would be turned over to farmers with no land or very little, he said.

The very site of the news conference showed that victory hasn't mellowed his crusade against U.S. coca-eradication efforts. It was held at the offices of the coca growers union where he rose to political prominence.

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