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Zimbabwe Bars NGOs from Constitutional Referendum

Non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe have petitioned President Robert Mugabe’s government to protest the electoral commission refusal to accredit them to observe Saturday’s constitutional referendum.

After a meeting with President Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who was given a copy of the NGOs’ petition, said the groups had a case against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

“If they have already announced that they will boycott I will persuade them to go back to the accreditation committee, you will be accredited. We all have to admit that we are managing a very delicate transition. My officials will write to ZEC to say this is what political leaders have taken in spite of the position earlier on taken,” Tsvangirai said.

The NGOs, who are being barred from observing the Saturday referendum, join Western countries that were told by Harare that they would not be accredited to observe Zimbabwe's constitutional referendum.

A new constitution in Zimbabwe is critical for African leaders, who want it adopted before elections expected around July that would end the country’s current coalition government.

Regional leaders forced President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF to form a coalition with Tsvangirai's MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) party following the disputed and violent 2008 elections.

The draft constitution reduces presidential powers and sets a maximum of two terms for the president.

It also has provisions strengthening state institutions such as the Cabinet, parliament and judiciary.