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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
Thai draft constitution approved
Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (file image)
Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted in a coup last September
A military-backed commission has approved the final draft of Thailand's new constitution, ten months after the army ousted ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

The constitution, which correspondents say is aimed at curbing the powers of prime ministers, will be put to a national referendum in August.

If passed, it will pave the way for elections later in the year.

But a number of groups oppose the charter, and its successful passage is not guaranteed.

As the announcement was made, several hundred pro-Thaksin and pro-democracy protesters demonstrated in front of parliament, urging people to reject the draft.

The military seized power in a bloodless coup in September 2006, accusing Mr Thaksin of corruption and abuse of power.

'Reject the draft'

"The voting is unanimous," said Noranit Sethaputra, president of the army-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA).

Pro-democracy protesters in Bangkok on 6 July 2007
Supporters of Mr Thaksin protested against the new draft

"This meeting concluded that the referendum on this draft constitution will be held on 19 August," he said.

Copies of the document - Thailand's 17th constitution in 75 years - are to be distributed to every household ahead of the referendum.

The government says the new constitution is more democratic than the one introduced in 1997, and that it includes more checks and balances.

If the constitution is approved, almost half of all Senators will be appointed, rather than elected.

The prime minister will be limited to two four-year terms and banned from major holdings in private companies. It will also be easier to impeach or censure the prime minister.

In other words, says the BBC's Jonathon Head in Bangkok, this is an anti-Thaksin constitution, taking aim at precisely the abuses the former prime minister is charged with.

Mr Thaksin, who remains very popular in rural areas, is living in exile in London. He has been ordered to return to Thailand to face corruption charges.

Surapong Suebwonglee, spokesman for Mr Thaksin's now dissolved Thai Rak Thai party, said the draft was "less democratic".

"We will... work together with other groups of activists to educate people and convince them to reject the draft," he told the French news agency AFP.

The current military-installed prime minister, Surayud Chulanont, has said that elections could be held as early as November if the new constitution is approved.

But there are fears of renewed political instability if it is rejected.

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