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New Constitution Approved By Afghan Loya Jirga

Kabul, 4 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Afghanistan's Loya Jirga passed a new constitution by consensus today, paving the way for the country's first full democratic elections.

Chairman Sebghatullah Mujadeddi asked the 502 delegates meeting in the capital, Kabul, to stand to show their endorsement of the constitution. An overwhelming majority did so.

Last-minute debate on the document focused on the power of the presidency and on the country's official languages. The document reportedly approves the presidential system sought by Transitional Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai, but with two vice presidents.

Dari and Pashto will be the two official languages, but northern minority languages have been granted official status in their strongholds.

Karzai praised delegates for their work, saying they have paved the way for a "free, united, rich, and legitimate Afghanistan."

The UN's special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, called it a "huge success for the people of Afghanistan." But he added that there is work to do to repair what he called the "bruises" from the ethnic debate over the past three weeks.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad called the accord a "good framework."

Presidential elections are tentatively set for June.