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Constitution referendum 'delayed to September'

HARARE (AFP)  — Zimbabwe's draft constitution is only expected to be ready for a referendum by September and not in June as originally scheduled, the constitutional affairs minister said on Thursday.

The new charter is meant to clear the way for fresh polls following the country's bloody 2008 elections, but the drafting process is running months behind after public outreach meetings were repeatedly postponed over outbreaks of violence.

"I do not see us going to referendum earlier than September this year," Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga told the state-run Herald newspaper.

Matinenga said officials expected to begin compiling input gathered during the outreach programmes in April.

Veteran President Robert Mugabe has said Zimbabwe should push ahead with elections even if the parties to the country's shaky power-sharing government fail to agree on a new constitution.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai earlier this month also called for a "divorce" in the unity government, urging elections under a roadmap devised by the Southern African Development Community, which is expected to take up the issue at a security summit next week.

Mugabe and long-time rival Tsvangirai formed the power-sharing government two years ago in a bid to stop the conflict sparked by the 2008 elections and mend the shattered economy.

The agreement included plans for a new constitution and amended media and election laws to ensure free and fair polls.

The constitution committee had originally set a date of June 30 to hold a referendum on the draft constitution.

But the public consultation process was repeatedly disrupted by violent attacks, including one in which a Tsvangirai supporter was killed when militant Mugabe backers stoned a meeting.