Court in Kenya allows constitutional referendum to go ahead

A court ruled Tuesday that a referendum can go ahead on a draft constitution that has been the subject of bitter and sometimes violent debate in Kenya. The vote, set for Monday, had been challenged in court by critics who said the government did not follow the legal process to draft the charter. In its ruling, though, the court said it would not stand in the way of the people's desire for a new constitution.

Opponents argue the proposed new charter ignores agreements hammered out during a constitutional conference last year designed to check presidential powers, in part by creating a powerful prime minister. President Mwai Kibaki argues the draft does cut presidential powers and has pushed for the charter's adoption.

The constitutional campaign has shaped up as a referendum on Kibaki, who came to power three years ago lauded as a champion of reform and democracy. His critics are calling on Kenyans to curb what they see as Kibaki's own authoritarian tendencies by rejecting the proposed constitution.

Kenya's current constitution was drafted in the lead-up to independence and has been revised several times to create a strong unitary state with sweeping presidential powers.

The campaign for the referendum, Kenya's first since gaining independence from Britain in 1963, has been marred by violence. In the most recent outbreak, police fired at "No" demonstrators Friday in the port city of Mombasa, according to officials of the "No" campaign. Four people were reported killed.

Human rights organizations, civic groups, religious leaders and politicians have urged the government to delay the referendum and review the constitution in an effort to resolve the deepening political rift, reports the AP. I.L.

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