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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 03:03 GMT
Congo approves new constitution
Residents line up to cast their ballot at a polling station in Brazzaville
The official turnout was just under 78% of eligible voters
A new controversial constitution has been approved in Congo-Brazzaville by an overwhelming majority.

According to government figures, 84.26% of voters in Sunday's referendum favoured the draft constitution and only 11.29% voted against it.

Congo-Brazzaville President Sassou-Nguesso voting yes on the referendum
The new constitution gives the president greater powers
The official turnout was just under 78% of 1.6 million eligible voters, despite calls by a dozen opposition parties for a boycott.

The opposition parties argued that the proposed new constitution would give excessive powers to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

But government officials argued that the draft would pave the way for elections.

"We appreciate the zealousness and patriotism of the population, who listened to the voice of peace," Interior Minister General Pierre Oba said.

Greater powers

The new constitution extends the president's term from five to seven years and allows him to appoint and dismiss ministers.

It does away with the position of prime minister altogether, and provides for a new bicameral assembly made up of a house of representatives and a senate.

Interior Minister Oba
Interior Minister Oba: We appreciate the patriotism
The new assembly does not have the power to remove the president from office, as the current parliament does.

The country has had only a provisional constitution since President Sassou-Nguesso seized power in 1997, ousting the elected president, Pascal Lissouba.

A year later, Mr Sassou-Nguesso faced a coup attempt by militias loyal to Mr Lissouba and Bernard Kolelas, a former prime minister.

The country has been relatively calm since the end of 1999, when ceasefire agreements were signed.


The draft constitution was approved in April by delegates to a national peace conference called by Mr Sassou-Nguesso, which neither Mr Lissouba nor Mr Kolelas attended - they had both been convicted in absentia for crimes committed in 1997.

Pascal Lissouba
Mr Lissouba's supporters oppose the elections
They and their supporters oppose any elections organised by Mr Sassou-Nguesso's regime.

Non-governmental human rights groups denounced the voting process, citing irregularities. International observers were not invited to supervise the referendum vote.

Presidential, legislative and municipal elections are scheduled to be held in Congo-Brazzaville on 10 March, 12 May and 9 June respectively.

See also:

28 Dec 01 | Africa
Ex-Congo leader on trial
31 Jul 01 | Africa
Congo militias make money not war
11 Aug 00 | Africa
Congo Brazzaville's 'peace train'
06 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Congo's glimmer of hope
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