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Mugabe signs constitution into law, paving way for vote

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses crowds gathered for the country's 33rd independence celebrations at the National Sports stadium
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe addresses crowds gathered for the country's 33rd independence celebrations at the National Sports stadium

By Cris Chinaka

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe signed a new constitution into law on Wednesday, replacing a 33-year-old document forged in the dying days of British colonial rule and paving the way for an election later this year.

Approved overwhelmingly in a referendum in March, the constitution clips the powers of the president and imposes a two-term limit. However, it does not apply retroactively so the 89-year-old Mugabe could technically extend his three decades in office by another 10 years.

A beaming Mugabe, flanked by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his main political rival, and Deputy President Joice Mujuru signed multiple copies of the charter at State House in the capital to cheers and applause from aides.

The constitution was formed as part of a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai after disputed and violent elections in 2008.

The five-year coalition government formed under the same agreement expires on June 29, and parliamentary and presidential elections should follow within 90 days of that date.

However, many obstacles remain, not least finding the estimated $130 million needed to pay for the election and reaching agreement on outside monitors.

Harare has turned down offers of United Nations or donor assistance and Mugabe accused some in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has been mediating in the crisis, of trying to impose their will on Harare.

"We rejected this," he told reporters after the signing ceremony, adding that any vote would be fair and peaceful.

"We will ensure that there won't be any violence, that there won't be any rigging."

In brief remarks, Tsvangirai said the charter had set the southern African country "on a new path" after nearly a decade of economic decline and political violence that started in 2000 with the seizure of white-owned commercial farms by Mugabe supporters.

However, neither he nor Mugabe made any mention of a possible election date and they did not take questions from reporters.

State media said on Wednesday Mugabe was pressing for a vote before July although his rivals want it delayed to allow for the opening up of broadcast media, registration of new voters and reform of the military to ensure it stays out of politics.

(Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alison Williams)