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Convention votes to make Australia a republic by '99

A special convention voted Friday to make Australia a republic and the country's monarchist leader promised a referendum next year on whether Australia should ditch Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state.

Prime Minister John Howard Howard settled arguments at the historic constitutional convention by saying a national, binding vote on the establishment of a republic will be held in 1999. The referendum will determine whether the queen should be replaced by a republican Australian president.The 152-member convention voted by 73 votes to 57 in favour of a republic over the existing constitutional monarchy, although differences over the make-up of the republic sparked bickering between monarchists and two rival republican camps.

Howard interrupted to say he would put the most popular model - for an appointed president - to the people.

"The only common sense interpretation of this convention is that a majority of people have voted generically in favour of a republic," Howard told the convention.

"It would be a travesty for that proposition not to be put to the Australian people," he said.

The historic step towards a republic was taken in Australia's old parliament house, a whitewashed colonial-style building brimming with symbols of the British Empire.

Howard's decision means Australia could become a republic by Jan. 1, 2001, the centenary of the federation into one nation of its six former British colonies.