Serbs vote to keep Kosovo

Serbia has overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that, among other things, declares Kosovo an "integral part" of Serbia, according to preliminary results. Independent observers and officials say that more than 53 percent of the voters cast their ballots, which is enough to make the constitutional referendum valid.

The Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy says just over half of Serbian voters approved the new constitution, which declares Kosovo "an integral part of Serbia." Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica had warned of what he called "unforeseeable consequences" if the vote failed.

The referendum raised eyebrows among international mediators who are in the middle of negotiations over the future status of Kosovo. The province has been under United Nations control since 1999 after NATO bombardment forced Serb troops out the territory, Voice of America reports.

Serbia's opposition Liberal Party charged there was "massive fraud" at polling stations in the final hours of voting, with people allegedly voting several times and without identification papers.

Western diplomats had already warned that only the international talks can decide the future of Kosovo, which ethnic Albanians want to be independent. But Serbian politicians hope the new charter will bolster their bargaining position. Ethnic Serbs consider Kosovo the historic and cultural heartland of their nation.

Independence-seeking ethnic Albanians form 90 percent of the population in Kosovo, which has been under U.N. administration since U.S.-led NATO air strikes halted a Serb crackdown on the separatists in 1999, the AP reports.

Low turnout had threatened to derail the draft constitution. Halfway through the second day of the two-day polling process, only 32.74 per cent of the registered electorate had cast ballots, leaving a real possibility that the government and allied parties would fail to mobilise the required 50 per cent support for the document, which declares Kosovo an integral part of Serbia, Financial Times reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov