Zimbabwe leaders say constitution deal agreed

Zimbabwe's political leaders say they have reached agreement on a new constitution after more than two years of delays and bickering over changes to reduce the sweeping powers of President Robert Mugabe and his ruling party.

No details of the deal were released but a coalition of democracy activists said Friday that "sticky issues" were resolved, paving the way toward finalization of the draft.

The Crisis Coalition said in a statement that without further hitches a referendum on the document could be held as early as April, followed by elections later in the year.

State radio on Friday quoted Mugabe saying there were some "t's to be crossed and i's to be dotted." Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office said he described the agreement as a defining moment for the nation's future.

A rewritten constitution to enshrine democratic reforms was a key demand of regional mediators who brokered a coalition between Mugabe and Tsvangirai after the last disputed and violent national polls in 2008.

An all-party parliamentary committee drafting the new constitution had reached deadlock over more than 30 clauses, including the reduction of powers held by Mugabe since independence from Britain in 1980, the establishment of an independent prosecuting authority to replace the attorney general's office answering to the Mugabe loyalist justice ministry and the decentralization of some government ministries to provincial towns and cities, strongholds of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party.

The democracy coalition said Friday under the terms Zimbabwe's power sharing arrangements, the draft constitution is first required to go for debate in the Harare parliament for about a month of sittings. Then it is published in an official notice and at least a month after that should be allowed for campaigning for a vote to accept or reject the constitution.

No information is available on any concessions made by the political parties. The coalition said it expects the revised document to be released as soon as it is ready.

"This means Zimbabwe is now geared toward a referendum where citizens will have an opportunity to exercise their democratic right," the coalition said.

Last year, Mugabe vowed to call a 2013 election using the existing constitution, amended 19 times since independence 1980 to entrench his party's traditional powers, if outstanding differences on reforms were not ironed out.

State radio reported Friday Mugabe said the parties `'generally agreed" on the final wording of the draft.

`'At least we have come to the end of this marathon exercise," he said.

Tsvangirai said in a statement released by his office: "I am sure the people's patience has been tested. I am glad to say this concludes a long journey."