November 2, 2010 / 6:35 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 1-Niger backs new constitution towards civilian rule

* “Yes” vote just over 90 percent

* Turnout reaches unprecedented high of 53 percent

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NIAMEY, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Voters in Niger overwhelmingly backed a new constitution meant to pave the way back to civilian rule, full preliminary results of a referendum in the West African desert state showed on Tuesday.

Sunday’s referendum was the first in a series of votes due to end with the swearing-in of a new civilian leader by April next year, replacing a junta that toppled President Mamadou Tandja in February.

Some 90.18 percent of voters backed a proposed constitution that will undo sweeping new presidential powers which Tandja awarded himself before he was deposed, and aims to improve governance in the mining sector of the leading uranium-producer.

Turnout was nearly 53 percent, the election commission said in a statement, noting that was high for a country where past votes have seen barely a third of voters cast their ballots. The constitution guarantees immunity for the leaders of February’s coup and commits them to handing over power on April 6 next year, by which time a newly elected civilian president is due to have been inaugurated.

National borders were closed for the vote, which took place some weeks after the west African state’s junta arrested four officers accused of trying to stage a coup.

Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; writing by Mark John; editing by Mark Heinrich

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