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Count underway after Zimbabwe referendum on Mugabe's powers

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Count underway after Zimbabwe referendum on Mugabes powers
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Harare: Ballot counting was underway in Zimbabwe today after a referendum on a new constitution set to curb President Robert Mugabe's powers and usher in crucial elections in the violence-plagued nation.

The results from yesterday's landmark referendum are expected to show strong support for the text which would introduce presidential term limits, beef up parliament's powers and set elections to decide whether the 89-year-old Mugabe stays in power.

Mugabe has ruled uninterrupted since the country's independence in 1980, despite a series of disputed and violent polls and a severe economic crash propelled by hyper-inflation.

The draft constitution is part of an internationally backed plan to get the country on track. Zimbabweans' verdict on the draft is expected to be known within five days of the voting.

Mugabe has backed the proposed constitution, which enshrines his drive to put land in the hands of black Zimbabweans. Also, the clauses are not retroactive so he could if re-elected remain president for another 10 years.

His political rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has also lent his support to the text.

But that has not prevented the threat of violence from looming over the vote, as party militants keep one eye on the general election slated for July.

Shortly before polls opened yesterday, gunmen later identified as plainclothes police detectives seized a member of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from his home northeast of Harare.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told AFP Samson Magumura had been arrested on charges of attempted murder in connection with a recent firebomb attack that injured a Mugabe ally.

While casting his vote yesterday, Mugabe, whom many blame for past unrest, urged Zimbabweans to ensure the referendum proceeded peacefully.

"You can't go about beating people on the streets, that's not allowed, we want peace in the country, peace, peace," he said.

Mugabe, the target of 11 years of Western sanctions over political violence and rights abuses, also used the opportunity to vow the United States and European countries would not be allowed to monitor the upcoming general election.

"The Europeans and the Americans have imposed sanctions on us and we keep them out in the same way they keep us out," he said.

PTI

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