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Bolivian protesters free prisoners

SUCRE, Bolivia (Reuters) - Demonstrators opposed to efforts by Bolivian President Evo Morales to overhaul the constitution on Sunday torched police stations and stormed a jail, freeing 100 inmates, while on the streets protesters clashed with police and one officer was killed.

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The protests in the southern city of Sucre came hours after pro-government allies in a constitutional assembly approved a preliminary draft late on Saturday of the new constitution, a key Morales political project.

Morales, a leftist and Bolivia’s first Indian president, says the new constitution will give the country’s indigenous majority more political power.

But the vote was boycotted by the rightist opposition, which has heavily criticized the assembly.

On the streets of Sucre, protesters stood face to face with police officers, setting fires to tires as tear-gas rained down on them.

They also set fire to Sucre’s San Roque prison, starting a prison riot that saw at least 100 inmates escape, local media said.

Bolivia’s state news agency ABI reported police had been ordered off the streets in Sucre to avoid further provoking protesters. The agency said the police officer who was killed had been lynched by a mob. Three other officers were injured.

“The constitutional assembly needs to leave. They’re no good. It’s just for La Paz; it doesn’t represent Bolivia,” said a university student who did not give his name after a night battling police.

Protests have raged for days against the assembly and the constitution it was drafting, and on Saturday police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of demonstrators

armed with rocks and clubs.

The assembly has polarized the country and comes amid a power struggle between Morales and his conservative rivals, who want more autonomy for the regions they govern and who also want to move the seat of government and Congress to Sucre from La Paz, a bastion of support for the president.

Sucre is nominally the South American country’s capital, but it is home only to the top courts, while the legislature and the seat of government have been in La Paz for over a century.

The constitutional draft was approved mainly with votes from Morales’ party as most opposition representatives boycotted the debates to protest moving the assembly to an army compound.

“That assembly is managed by the people of the Altiplano, by people who don’t know how to measure the consequences of their actions,” said Mario Ona, a constituent assembly delegate, referring to the Andean mountain region surrounding La Paz, home to Morales’ strongest support base.

The new constitution must pass a referendum by the general population early next month.

Additional reporting by Monica Machicao, Writing by Pav Jordan, Editing by Cynthia Osterman