Spain to write off large part of the Latin American country's debt

Spain has told Bolivian President-elect Evo Morales that it will write off a large part of the Latin American country's debt to Madrid. Spanish officials said Mr Morales had agreed that the $120m (99m euros; Ј68m) debt would be spent on improving educational programmes in Bolivia. Spain also promised to help Bolivia's agricultural sector.

Mr Morales said Bolivia needed foreign partners but they would not be "masters of our natural resources". He has met Spain's King Juan Carlos, socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and other officials as part of an international tour ahead of his inauguration. Mr Morales also held talks with a number of business leaders, including the head of the energy giant Repsol.

In response to the offer of cutting the debt, Mr Morales said: "This is a great relief for me. We want to put an end to our country's illiteracy rate."

He also urged Spanish society to "accompany" Bolivia on its new political course, which he said would be focused on the fight against poverty.

Spain is the third biggest foreign investor in Bolivia. Mr Morales told reporters his country needed "partners, foreign investors, but not owners of our natural resources".

"My government... is going to exercise its property right over its natural resources," he added. He said this did not mean his government would confiscate or expropriate resources or evict companies. A raging struggle over who should exploit Bolivia's large natural gas reserves has forced two presidents to resign in recent years.

Mr Morales - who will become the country's first indigenous president - won the December election on pledges to increase social spending and turn away from free-market policies. On Tuesday, Mr Morales visited Venezuela, where he pledged to join President Hugo Chavez in a fight against "neo-liberalism and imperialism".

Mr Morales last week held talks in Cuba with its leader Fidel Castro. He will also visit France, Belgium, South Africa, China and Brazil. His next stops in Europe are France and Belgium. After Europe, he will travel to South Africa at the personal invitation of Nelson Mandela, reports the AP. I.L.

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