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U.S., EU Welcome Turkish Referendum Results

"September 12 will go down in history as a turning point in Turkish democracy," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.
The United States and the European Union have hailed the results from Turkey's referendum on a package of changes to the country's military-era constitution.

The High Election Board is expected to announce the official results later today. With nearly all votes from the September 12 referendum counted, some 58 percent of Turks voted in favor of the 26 proposed amendments, which would curb the military's power and reshape the judiciary. Turnout was 77 percent.

Hailing the results, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish democracy was the "winner."

"The 'yes' vote which came out of the referendum today is the result of the public's aspiration for democracy," he said. "On behalf of the AK Party, I see this as a nationwide support for a change and democratization processes."

However, opposition parties say Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) are trying to secure a further hold on power and steer the country away from its traditional secularism.

The White House said President Barack Obama called Erdogan to congratulate him and "acknowledged the vibrancy of Turkey's democracy as reflected in the turnout" for the referendum.

European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a statement that the reforms were "a step in the right direction as they address a number of long-standing priorities in Turkey's efforts towards fully complying with the accession criteria."

But he added that the vote "needs to be followed by other much-needed reforms to address the remaining priorities in the area of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle welcomed the success of the referendum and said constitutional reform was critical for Turkey's bid for EU membership.

'Turning Point In Democracy'

The present constitution was drawn up by a military junta that seized power in a coup 30 years ago, on September 12, 1980. From now on, Erdogan said, that date will be remembered for something more positive.

"September 12 will go down in history as a turning point in Turkish democracy. You will always be remembered for this. We will always be remembered for this," Erdogan said. "This date, September 12, which was tainted with the constitution of a coup, has turned into a bright page, with this referendum, and a milestone for democracy."

The changes are aimed at bringing Turkey more in line with the European Union, which the government wants to join.

At the heart of the package is an attempt to reform the judiciary, long seen as one of the twin pillars of Turkey's secular political settlement. The proposed changes also further reduce the status of the armed forces, the traditional guarantors of Turkey's secular state.

Meanwhile, Turkish shares hit a record high on opening today, with the Istanbul Stock Exchange's IMKB-100 index opening at 61,905 points.

Investors see the strong support for the AKP as a sign that the party is on track toward a fresh victory in the 2011 general elections. The party has reigned over strong economic growth since it shot to power in 2002.

written by Antoine Blua, with agency reports
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