Armenians approve constitutional amendments in referendum

Armenians have given an overwhelming approval to a set of constitutional amendments hailed by the West but boycotted by the opposition in the ex-Soviet nation, officials said Monday. The amendments, aimed at imposing a more strict separation of powers between the judicial, executive and legislative branches, were supported by 93 percent of some 1.5 million voters who cast ballots in Sunday's vote, said Central Election Commission chief Garegin Azarian.

The amendments also included the removal of a clause barring Armenians from holding dual citizenship, an important change for the small country of about 3.3 million that has a massive ethnic diaspora worldwide.

The amendments, which needed to be supported by at least one third of Armenia's 2.3 million eligible voters to become law, were backed by about 1.4 million voters, Azarian said. 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.

A rally in a central Yerevan square Sunday urging people to boycott the referendum attracted only 1,000 people, the same number as a similar event last week. A similar set of amendments failed to win approval in a 2003 referendum, reports the AP. I.L.

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