Zimbabwe president announces referendum date

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday setting March 16 as the date for the nation to vote on a new constitution ahead of national elections later this year.

A government notice formally published on Friday leaves a calendar month for distribution of the 160-page draft document and campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote. Independent advocacy groups say that is not long enough for a free poll to reflect the wishes of electors.

Friday’s notice said polling stations will be opened for 12 hours countrywide at 7 a.m.  (0500 GMT) on March 16, which is a Saturday.

The draft constitution was completed on Feb. 6 after three years of disputes, bickering and constant delays and funding shortages. Democratic reforms to the constitution were a key demand of regional mediators after violent, disputed elections in 2008.

About 90,000 copies of the draft are being printed for distribution starting Monday.

Zimbabwe has nearly 6 million registered voters out of a population of 13 million.

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