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Mauritanians Overwhelmingly Approve Term Limits


Mauritanians have overwhelmingly approved term limits for elected presidents in a referendum marking the first of many planned polls during the transition from military to democratic rule. Although the results are only partial, they send a clear signal of Mauritanians' desire for change.

The results indicate more than 95 percent of Mauritanians from throughout the country approved the constitutional changes. They include replacing open-ended six-year presidential mandates with two five-year terms.

Candidates are required to be between 40 and 75. Any elected president will have to swear on the Koran that he or she will not alter the law on term limits.

A journalist who was waiting for the release of the official results, Salem Bokari, says there is a feeling of a transition being well done.

"People are very happy in many places in the capital of this West Africa nation, Nouakchott. [They are] so grateful, and expressed their congratulations for the vote of the big majority of the voters Sunday to accept the amendments, which are considered here in this country as a very good thing for the future of this country," he said.

Turnout has been estimated at 75 percent in this mostly desert, sparsely populated, and newly oil-producing West African nation.

Observers from the Arab League said they were impressed by the motivation of voters.

A transitional group, which toppled long-term President Maaouiya Ould Taya in August last year, organized the referendum.

The 'yes' vote paves the way for November municipal and lower house elections, senate elections in January, and a presidential poll in March.

Members of the military government have pledged not to run.

The few opponents to a 'yes' vote in the referendum had expressed disappointment an anti-slavery clause was not included in the constitutional changes. Slavery is banned by several laws, but there are repeated reports that it is still practiced in some remote areas of Mauritania.