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NEW CONSTITUTION ADOPTED

South Africa adopted a new constitution Wednesday that guarantees equal rights for all and completes the country's official transformation from the injustice of apartheid to democracy.

The Constitutional Assembly, which worked two years to draft the 150-page document, voted 421-2 to pass it. There were 10 abstentions.With the result, delegates leaped to their feet with cheers and began dancing and singing in the parliament chamber where apartheid laws once were passed.

"Our pledge is: Never and never again shall the laws of our land rend our people apart or legalize their oppression and repression," President Nelson Mandela said in a speech after the vote.

The constitution will take effect gradually over the next three years, then come into force fully with the next national elections in 1999.

Smaller parties feared the charter would fail to protect minority rights and opposed it. The Afrikaner nationalist Freedom Front abstained on the ratification vote. The Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party, which boycotted the Constitutional Assembly, was absent to show its opposition.

"We see no salvation in this constitution for the Afrikaner people or for any other nations," said a statement from 31 groups, including farmers and white mineworkers' unions, representing Afrikaners, the Dutch-descended white settlers of South Africa.

The African National Congress and the white-led National Party it succeeded two years earlier endorsed the plan as the building block of a new South Africa.

"Today it feels good to be an African," said ANC Deputy President Thabo Mbeki.

Deputy President F.W. de Klerk, the National Party leader and last apartheid president, also called himself an African and said ratifying the document showed South Africans were ready to "turn our backs on the bitterness of the past, to build and develop, to bring a better life to all our people."