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Republic of Congo Approves New Constitution - 2002-01-24

The government of the Republic of Congo says voters have approved a new constitution. The document was approved despite opposition calls for a boycott of the referendum Sunday.

The opposition, including one faction led by former Prime Minister Bernard Kolelas, opposes the constitution - charging that it grants too much power to the president.

The new law creates a bicameral parliament and establishes the office of the president, who will have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers. The chief executive's maximum time in office will be two, seven-year terms.

The president will not have the power to dissolve parliament. But the new constitution allows the legislative body to remove the president from office.

The Republic of Congo has been governed under a provisional constitution since 1997, when now President Denis Sassou Nguesso seized power in a coup, ousting elected President Pascal Lissouba.

After the coup, intense fighting continued among factions, but the country has been at peace since the signing of cease-fire agreements among various factions in 1999.

Mr. Sassou-Nguesso is expected to run in the presidential elections scheduled for March.

Despite calls for a boycott, government officials in the capital, Brazzaville, say nearly 78 percent of eligible voters turned out Sunday. No international observers were invited to monitor the vote and thus the government's account of voter turnout could not be verified.

The government proclaimed the passage of the referendum late Wednesday, saying 84 percent of voters approved it.