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Portuguese military banned from politics by new Constitution

A chapter in Portugal's modern history was closed last weekend as the nation's new Constitution came into effect.

The Constitution dissolved the military's Council of the Revolution and banned military officers from politics. Few imagined the military would give up the reins of power so easily only eight years after they toppled Europe's longest-surviving dictatorship.

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As it was, they left the way all military chiefs retire in Portugal - with tears, long speeches, farewell banquets, some last-minute decorations and promotions, and a televised ceremony.

* Background:

The Council of the Revolution was the last body where the left-wing officers who took part in the 1974 coup still had a voice. And it was through the council that the military had wielded their power since 1975.

In their final minutes in office some of them openly complained that the revolution had been in vain and that the men who ran Portugal before the coup were now back in power under the right-wing government.

* Implications:

In Latin countries where the army always plays an important role, a voluntary withdrawal by the military is bound to be greeted with skepticism. The question on many lips is inevitably: ''When will they come back?''

The military themselves were the first to cast doubts on the survival of democracy in Portugal. The council's last message to the Portuguese warned them there was a danger they would once again fall under a right-wing authoritarian regime.

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Now that the military have gone, the revolution is officially over, but it is the politicians who will have to foot the bill.

In the last eight years Portugal's foreign debt has climbed to $12 billion from virtually zero before the revolution. Nearly half that debt has been contracted during the last three years of right-wing government.

Because of the need for greater austerity, Portuguese citizens will be asked to tighten their belts further, and the council predicted this would soon lead to an unprecedented political, social, and economic crisis.

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