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Afghan President Signs New Constitution - 2004-01-26

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has signed the country's new constitution into law, paving the way for the first free elections in more than two decades.

President Karzai signed a government decree formally adopting Afghanistan's newly drafted constitution into law. The document provides for a moderate Islamic republic lead by a president, slated to be elected later this year.

The new government outlined in the constitution will replace Mr. Karzai's transitional administration, installed after the fall of the hard-line religious Taleban regime in 2001.

The transitional government drafted the new constitution last year. A grand council of Afghan leaders elected from across the country, along with a small contingent of members appointed by Mr. Karzai, then amended and approved the document earlier this month.

The Afghan government and United Nations are registering people for elections, tentatively scheduled for this June.

While more than half a million of the country's estimated 10 million prospective voters have been registered, work has been hampered by an anti-government insurgency led by Taleban remnants.

In his decree, Mr. Karzai who plans to run for re-election, praised the constitution as a means to reunite the country after years of civil war.

Afghan and foreign officials attended the signing ceremony in a show of support for the new constitution, with participants including former Afghan king Zahir Shah and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.