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Bolivia's President Evo Morales speaks during a ceremony in Tiquipaya, Bolivia, November 28, 2017. Enzo De Luca/Courtesy of Bolivian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
LA PAZ (Reuters) - Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Thursday that opposition from the United States convinced him to run for a fourth term in 2019, two days after the Constitution Court cleared the way by striking down the South American country's term limits.
His government earlier brushed off criticism from Washington, which said it was "deeply concerned" over Tuesday's court decision. Morales then took it a step further, saying the U.S. reaction actually convinced him to run.
"I was not so determined; now I am determined," he said at a public event in the central Bolivian region of Cochabamba. "I will be a candidate, sisters and brothers, in 2019."
The court ruling is final and cannot be appealed.
Groups opposed to Morales' reelection planned a second day of demonstrations on Thursday. Protesters had broken windows and set office furniture on fire at an elections office in the city of Santa Cruz around midnight on Wednesday before police took them away, television images showed.
Morales, a former coca farmer in power since 2006, had previously accepted the results of a referendum in 2016, when 51 percent of voters rejected his proposal to end term limits. He later reversed course, saying that while he was willing to leave office, his supporters were pushing for him to stay.
The U.S. State Department disputed that position.
"Twice in the last decade, the Bolivian people have expressed their opposition to the concept of indefinite reelection for elected officials; first in 2009, through their overwhelming vote in favor of the current constitution, and again in a 2016 referendum, when they rejected an initiative to overturn the constitutional provision that imposes the two-term limit on the president," the department's statement said.
Morales' administration dismissed the criticism. "It looks like they are trying to tell us who our candidates should be," Minister of the Presidency Rene Martinez said.
He said right-wing political forces in Bolivia had joined with the United States and the Organization of American States to stop Morales from running again.
Historically unstable Bolivia has enjoyed relative calm and prosperity under Morales, the country's first indigenous president. Approval ratings for Morales, a fierce critic of capitalism and ally of embattled Venezuelan socialist leader Nicolas Maduro, hover at around 50 percent.
In September, his Movement to Socialism party asked the courts to rescind legal limits barring elected authorities from seeking reelection indefinitely.
Morales says his first election took place under Bolivia's previous constitution and therefore did not count under the now-defunct two-term rule.
(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Monica Machicao; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Dan Grebler)