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Zimbabwe starts voting in key referendum on a new constitution, amid simmering political tensions.
Both main parties – Zanu-PF and the MDC – are urging their supporters to back the constitution, which would pave way for new elections later this year.
The polls could end a shaky power-sharing deal between the rival parties following a disputed vote in 2008.
Campaigning for the referendum was marred by an attack on an MDC politician in the capital, Harare.
Sten Zvorwadza, who hopes to become the next Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lawmaker for the city’s Mbare suburb, was punched as he tried to put up posters on Friday.
Although no-one was seriously injured, the incident is a reminder of the violence lurking close to the surface in Zimbabwe.
On Tuesday, a Zanu-PF official was injured after his house was petrol-bombed by unknown assailants in Makoni district, in north-eastern Zimbabwe.
And in February, the 12-year-old son of an MDC activist died in an alleged arson attack in the eastern farming district of Headlands.
Polls across Zimbabwe opened at 07:00 local time and are due to close at 19:00.
Zimbabwe starts voting in key referendum on a new constitution, amid simmering political tensions
In Mbare, the scene of Friday’s violence, more than 100 people were queuing outside a polling station as it opened, Reuters news agency reports.Under the new constitution, the president who wins the election, expected to be held in July, will be able to serve a maximum of two terms.Incumbent President Robert Mugabe, who has the backing of Zanu-PF, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is currently serving as prime minister, are both expected to compete for the presidency again.
Robert Mugabe, 89, has been in power since independence in 1980.
Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the president wanted people to vote peacefully.
“He said we should not have violence and added that the party will not tolerate that nonsense whether it is intra-party or inter-party. He wants the people to vote in peace,” Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper quotes Rugare Gumbo as saying.
Analysts say the constitution is seen as a compromise document.
Western and US observers have been barred from monitoring the referendum, but some 2,000 local and other foreign observers have been accredited for Saturday’s vote, the Herald reports.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a network of 31 non-government organizations whose head office was raided by police in February, is deploying about 600 observers.
More than 60% of voters backed the new Egypt’s constitution in a referendum, although only a third of the electorate voted.
Critics say the new constitution favors Islamists and betrays the revolution.
President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power in February 2011 after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.
After the referendum result was announced on Tuesday, dozens of anti-constitution protesters blocked one of the main bridges in the capital Cairo, setting tyres alight and stopping traffic.
Parliamentary elections must now take place within two months.
The political divisions surrounding the referendum have led to economic uncertainty and a reported rush to buy US dollars.
Currency exchanges in parts of Cairo were said to have run out of dollars. Before the result was announced, the authorities declared a limit of $10,000 for travelers into and out of Egypt.
On Monday, Egypt’s central bank issued a statement saying that the banks had “stable liquidity” to safeguard all deposits.
President Mohamed Morsi’s government will soon have to take some unpopular measures to prop up the economy, which could hurt his party at the ballot box.
On Tuesday, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie welcomed the referendum’s results, tweeting: “Congratulations to the Egyptian people on approving the constitution of revolutionary Egypt.”
Echoing his words, Prime Minister Hisham Qandil stressed that there was “no loser” in the vote and called for co-operation with the government to restore the economy.
More than 60 percent of voters backed the new Egypt’s constitution in a referendum, although only a third of the electorate voted
President Mohamed Morsi’s mainly Islamist supporters say that the new constitution will secure democracy and encourage stability.
But opponents accuse the president, who belongs to the Brotherhood, of pushing through a text that favors Islamists and does not sufficiently protect the rights of women or Christians, who make up about 10% of the population.
The US state department responded to the vote by urging all sides in Egypt to commit themselves “to engage in an inclusive process to negotiate their differences”.
In a direct appeal to President Mohamed Morsi, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that as democratically elected leader he had a “special responsibility… to bridge divisions, build trust and broaden support for the political process”.
Turnout was 32.9% of Egypt’s total of 52 million voters, election commission President Samir Abul Maati told a news conference in Cairo.
Samir Abul Maati rejected opposition allegations that fake judges supervised some of the polling – one of several complaints relating to voting fraud made by the opposition National Salvation Front after each stage of voting.
Egypt has recently seen large demonstrations by both critics and supporters of the constitution, which have occasionally turned violent.
Before the first round of voting on December 15, the opposition considered boycotting the referendum before deciding to back a No vote.
Polling had to be held on two days because of a lack of judges prepared to supervise the process.
Egypt referendum result:
- Votes for constitution 10,693,911 (63.8%)
- Votes against 6,061,101 (36.2%)
- Turnout 32.9% (17,058,317 votes including 303,395 declared invalid)
Source: Egyptian election commission
Egyptians have begun voting on a new constitution endorsed by the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, which has divided the country and sparked deadly unrest.
President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have campaigned heavily in favor of the draft document, which may define Egypt for years to come.
Opponents say it is poorly drafted and overly favors Islamists.
The opposition National Salvation Front coalition has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to rig the vote.
However, the ballot, which is staggered over Saturday and a second day of voting in a week’s time, appears to be going smoothly with indications of a high turnout.
Many people said they were voting for the restoration of stability in Egypt.
Saturday’s voting takes place in Cairo, Alexandria and eight other provinces, a week before the rest of the country.
Some 250,000 security personnel have been deployed to safeguard a referendum in which more than 51 million people are registered to vote.
Polling reportedly had to be spread out because few judges were willing to supervise the referendum but human rights groups have expressed fears the results from the first round could sway the opinion of those voting in the second.
Egyptians have begun voting on a new constitution endorsed by the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, which has divided the country and sparked deadly unrest
A constitution must be in place before elections can be held early next year.
Mohamed Morsi was elected president in June with just over half of the vote, more than a year after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a popular revolt in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world.
The referendum is more than a vote on obscure clauses – it is about whether Egypt should be an Islamic country or a secular one.
The simple ballot paper just asks if Egyptians support or oppose the new constitution. Supporters include President Mohamed Morsi, who voted near the presidential palace in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, the Muslim Brotherhood and most other Islamists.
Opponents include liberals and others who want a more secular future for Egypt. Some of them say the new constitution would take away some of the new freedoms hard won in last year’s revolution.
Voters interviewed by Reuters news agency in Cairo were hopeful the vote would bring some calm to Egypt.
“I see this as a positive step for the country… a good base that we can start to work from,” said one, Ahmed Gindy.
In the northern port city of Alexandria, where there were clashes on Friday between rival activists fighting with clubs, stones and other weapons, Mohamed Ewais explained why he was voting “No”.
“I cannot accept a constitution with very limited, very limited actually, rights for minorities, rights for women, rights for even children,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
“It’s not suitable for Egypt, actually. We are taking about a country that has been in place for over 210 years as a modern state.”
Outside Cairo the situation has been calm amid high turnout:
- In Alexandria, long queues formed at polling stations and voters complained about the waiting time
- In Mahalla, a city in the Delta that has seen big anti-Morsi demonstrations, polling stations were heaving with people, with heated political discussions outside the voting booths
- In Assiut, Upper Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is popular, there was tight security from the police and military, including tanks guarding some polling stations
The violence in Alexandria reportedly broke out after a cleric at a mosque urged worshippers to vote “Yes”.
Clashes continued late into the evening, with police firing tear gas, and at least 15 people injured in the fighting.
President Mohamed Morsi has granted the army powers to arrest civilians.
Supporters of the draft constitution have accused the opposition of sowing “lies and discord” about the referendum.
The opposition National Salvation Front had vehemently opposed the referendum but this week said its supporters should go to the ballot boxes to vote “No”.
In a statement on Saturday, it expressed “deep concern… over the number of irregularities and violations in the holding of the referendum”.
This, it alleged, pointed to a “clear desire for vote-rigging by the Muslim Brotherhood”.
However, the Egyptian army’s chief of staff, Gen Sedky Sobhi, said he was satisfied with the situation inside and outside polling stations.
Over 30,000 people have been protesting in Budapest over Hungary’s controversial new constitution, a day after it came into force.
The country’s governing Fidesz party pushed the law through parliament in April after winning a two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections.
Opposition say the new constitution threatens democracy by removing checks and balances set up in 1989 when Communism fell.
The EU and U.S. had also asked for the law to be withdrawn.
The dispute has cast doubt over talks on a new financing agreement with the EU and IMF, seen as vital for market confidence in the central European country.
But the economic crisis facing Hungary overshadows both the government’s policies and the opposition protests.
Over 30,000 people have been protesting in Budapest over Hungary's controversial new constitution, a day after it came into force
Fidesz party won the elections promising to create a million workplaces – but there has been no growth so far.
As the public mood worsens, so do the country’s ratings, the chances of attracting foreign investment, and creating more jobs.
Several centre-left opposition parties joined in the protests, held near a gala event organized by the government to celebrate the new constitution.
Protesters chanted slogans denouncing the centre-right Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, and carried placards denouncing his “dictatorship” as officials arrived for the event.
“Viktor Orban and his servants turned Hungary from a promising place to the darkest spot in Europe,” said Socialist MP Tibor Szanyi, quoted by AFP news agency.
Aspects of the new constitution and accompanying laws which have come in for criticism include:
• A preamble committed to defending the intellectual and spiritual unity of the nation, which experts warn could be a future source of tension;
• The inclusion of social issues – like the rights of the unborn child, marriage between a man and a woman, and the definition of life sentences – which experts say should be left to ethical debates within society;
• The rewriting of the electoral system, in a way which opponents say favors Fidesz;
But Fidesz says the new constitution, or basic law, improves the legal framework of life in Hungary.
“Despite political debates we think it is an important value that for the first time, a freely elected parliament created the Basic Law,” said Fidesz MP Gergely Gulyas, quoted by the Reuters news agency.
Gergely Gulyas co-wrote the new law and shepherded it through parliament.