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Serbian Voters Approve Judiciary Constitution Changes Backed By West

Only 30 percent of about 6.5 million eligible voters participated in the referendum.
Only 30 percent of about 6.5 million eligible voters participated in the referendum.

Voters in Serbia have approved constitutional amendments for the judiciary in a referendum, according to preliminary results from the January 16 vote.

The changes impact the election of judges and prosecutors that the government says will grant greater independence to the judiciary and reduce political influence.

The United States and European countries have supported the amendments, which are viewed as a key element for Serbia to advance its bid to join the European Union.

President Aleksandar Vucic’s government backed the changes, which passed with 60 percent support, according to preliminary results with 97 percent of votes counted. Turnout was only around 30 percent.

Vucic and other officials urged voters to support the amendments, arguing that they would improve the rule of law and foreign investment.

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo overshadowed the vote, after Pristina banned ethnic Serbs in the north from voting on Kosovar soil.

In a joint statement on January 14, France, Germany, Italy, Britain, and the United States expressed regret that Kosovo didn't allow the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to collect the ballots of eligible voters living in Kosovo, which had been the case previously.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a 1998-99 conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbian forces. Belgrade doesn’t recognize Kosovo and around 120,000 ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo want to be part of Serbia.

Serbia and Kosovo's EU membership aspirations are contingent on the normalization of relations between the two counties.

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