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Serbia votes to reassert its claim over Kosovo

A new constitution has been approved, observers say.

October 30, 2006|From the Associated Press

BELGRADE, SERBIA — Serbian voters have approved a new constitution reasserting Serbia's claim over breakaway Kosovo province, independent observers and Serbia's prime minister said Sunday.

The Belgrade-based Center for Free Elections and Democracy said its sample count after polls closed in the two-day vote indicated that 96% of those who participated in the referendum supported the draft charter.

About 53.3% of the country's 6.6 million voters took part, above the 50% required for the vote to be valid, the group said. The final result was expected today.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica congratulated the country on its new constitution.

"This is a great moment for Serbia," Kostunica told Serbian television. "This is a historic moment, a beginning of a new era for Serbia."

The referendum had been strongly condemned by Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians, who have long boycotted any ballot under Serb auspices.

Western diplomats have warned that only international negotiations can decide Kosovo's future, but Belgrade politicians countered that adopting the new constitution would bolster their position in the talks.

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

Serbs in Kosovo began celebrating, shouting "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia," even before official results were announced. The province's 2 million ethnic Albanians were not invited by Belgrade to vote.

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