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Mugabe Announces Referendum Date

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has issued an official proclamation setting a March 16 date for a referendum on a proposed new constitution, a move that sets the stage for national elections later this year.

In a Friday statement, Mr. Mugabe said he considered it "desirable to ascertain the view of voters" as he announced his decision on the issue.

His proclamation follows announcements earlier this week by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Eric Matinenga, the constitutional affairs minister.

Mr. Tsvangirai said presidential and parliamentary elections were expected in July.

The proposed new constitution would, for the first time, set presidential term limits. However, the limits would not be retroactive. As a result, Mr. Mugabe, who has led the nation since its independence in 1980, could run again. The 88-year-old president has indicated he will seek another term.



The National Constitution Assembly has said it will challenge the March referendum date in court. The NCA, which is composed of pro-democracy groups, says the government needs to provide a debate period of at least two months before voters decide on the constitution.

Zimbabwe's 2008 elections were marred by violence, most of it by supporters of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

The unrest prompted regional leaders to nullify Mr. Mugabe's victory. He later formed a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai.

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