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Afghanistan passes constitution by consensus

loya jirga
Afghan delegates cast their vote at the loya jirga.

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(CNN) -- After nearly three weeks of wrangling, Afghanistan's constitutional convention compromised on a new charter for the country, with the 502-member grand council passing the historic document by consensus.

Full democratic elections will be set for later this year in accord with the new constitution, which will shape the government of an Afghanistan no longer ruled by the Taliban, which lost power after harboring al Qaeda.

"Today's constitution has included all needs of Afghans from different parts of the country and indeed it reflects the hopes of the Afghan people," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said at a ceremony marking the closing of the convention on Sunday.

The 160-article document gives the president sweeping powers, but awards parliament oversight powers over many of the president's duties, including the appointment of Cabinet ministers. The constitution also names Dari and Pashto as Afghanistan's national languages, and recognizes other languages in specific, ethnic regions.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s special envoy to Afghanistan, said the Afghan people and the delegates to the loya jirga, or grand council, "have every reason to be proud of what you have achieved."

"I am certain that the people of Afghanistan are very happy tonight and see in this constitution a new source of hope. ... The time for jihad is finished."

President Bush -- who drove the Taliban from power after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States -- congratulated the Afghan people.

"A democratic Afghanistan will serve the interests and just aspirations of all of the Afghan people and help ensure that terror finds no further refuge in that proud land," Bush said. "This new constitution marks a historic step forward, and we will continue to assist the Afghan people as they build a free and prosperous future."

Both sides of the loya jirga compromised on many issues, journalist Victoria Burnett told CNN.

On Thursday, more than 200 of the 502 delegates refused to cast their ballots on the original draft constitution in protest over the content of the proposed constitution's 12 articles.

That draft, supported by U.S.-backed Karzai and members of the Pashtun majority, envisioned an Islamic republic with a bicameral legislature and a strong president, who also will serve as commander-in-chief of the military.

Critics -- most members of the minority northern tribes -- said the draft constitution gave one person too much control, since the president would appoint one-third of the legislature's upper house, as well as top judges and national security officials. They sought a constitution that creates a parliament with more power over the president and the constitutional courts.


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