Armenians cast ballots in constitutional referendum

Armenians voted Sunday on a set of constitutional amendments hailed by the West but boycotted by the opposition in the ex-Soviet nation.

The amendments are intended to impose a more strict separation of powers between the judicial, executive and legislative branches. The proposed changes also include removal of a clause barring Armenia's citizens from having citizenship of another country - an important change for the small country of about 3.3 million that has a massive ethnic diaspora worldwide.

The United States and the European Union has welcomed the amendments, saying they would help strengthen democracy in Armenia.

The opposition parties were boycotting the vote on the grounds that their proposals were not taken into account. They also said that the amendments still allow President Robert Kocharian to wield too much power.

The opposition has accused Kocharian of allowing corruption to flourish and failing to improve the nation's moribund economy, but it has failed to draw any significant public following. An opposition rally last week urging to boycott the referendum attracted just over 1,000 people.

The amendments need to be supported by at least one third of Armenia's 2.2 million eligible voters to become law. A similar set of amendments failed to win approval in a 2003 referendum, AP reports.

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