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Syrian president sets Feb. 26 for constitutional referendum

(Xinhua)

10:35, February 16, 2012

DAMASCUS, Feb. 15 (Xinhua) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a presidential decree Wednesday, setting Feb. 26 as the date for the referendum on the new draft constitution, state-run SANA news agency reported.

Al-Assad received Sunday a copy of the draft constitution from the head of a national committee entrusted with drafting a new constitution, SANA said, adding that after the president review the draft it would be referred to the People's Assembly before being put up for a referendum.

The Syrian president decreed the formation of a national committee on Oct. 15, 2011, to prepare a draft constitution within four months.

The committee members, including 29 academics, lawyers and opposition figures, have stressed that the new constitution was written in a way that would preserve the dignity and rights of the Syrian people, according to SANA.

According to the state television, the draft constitution contains 157 articles divided into six basic parts: rights and freedom, the rule of law, the state authorities, the constitutional court, the amendments of the constitution, and other general provisions.

It said the draft constitution stipulates that Syria's political system is based on the principle of political pluralism and a democratic exercise of power through balloting boxes, and that any political activity or the establishment of parties and political gatherings should not be on religious, sectarian, tribal or factional basis.

It also limits the presidential terms to a maximum of two seven- year mandates, and has canceled Article 8, which states that the ruling Baath party is the leader of the nation and the society.

The amendment of the article has been one of the main demands of Syrian protestors and would pave the way for the formation of parties besides the Baath party and 11 other closely associated parties known as the National Progressive Front.

Al-Assad pledged in a national speech on Jan. 10 that the new constitution would be focused on the pluralism of political parties and institutions. He also promised to hold a referendum on the new constitution at the beginning of March.

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