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LUSAKA, Feb. 1 (IRIN) - Zambia's President Levy Mwanawasa has bowed to pressure and agreed that a constituent assembly would adopt a new constitution, as demanded by civil society and the opposition.

Mwanawasa, a lawyer turned politician, caught his critics off guard when he conceded defeat during a public rally at the weekend in the mining town of Ndola, about 350 km north of the capital, Lusaka.

"If it's the wish of the people to have a new constitution before this year's elections, and a constituent assembly, we will implement the people's wishes - as long as the law is followed," he announced.

But the Rev. Japheth Ndhlovu, chairman of the Oasis Forum, which has been campaigning for a new constitution, was unconvinced. "Mr Mwanawasa's statement must be taken with a pinch of salt because there is a possibility of deception - and the statement is being made during an election year," he told the news agency IRIN.

The Constitution Review Commission, appointed in 2003 to draft a new constitution, has already handed a draft constitution to Mwanawasa, which includes the demand that future presidents of Zambia be sworn in after being elected by more than 50 percent of the registered voters.

Mwanawasa was sworn in as president after winning just 28 percent of the votes in a 2002 election, widely rejected as fraudulent by the Atlanta-based Carter Centre, European Union (EU) monitors and two domestic election monitors.

Zambia is scheduled to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in the next six months.

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