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Egyptian voters approve constitutional changes

Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved changes in the constitution, opening the way for parliamentary and presidential elections within months, according to final results from a landmark referendum announced Sunday. Opponents fear the swift timetable could boost the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former ruling party.

The Brotherhood had campaigned heavily for a "yes" vote in the referendum. Critics say that since it and the former ruling party are the best-organized political forces in the country, they stand to gain the most in an early election -- which will bring in Egypt's first democratically elected government to replace the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The results are likely to open a frenzied campaign season, with liberal pro-democracy forces scrambling to put together political parties to contest upcoming races.

Shady Ghazali, one of the organizers of the protests that forced Mubarak out after 18 days, said the youth coalition that led the demonstrations is discussing putting forward a national list of candidates for the parliamentary elections under its name.

The parliamentary and presidential elections are key because the next legislature and government are to lead the process of wider change, including likely drawing up a new constitution. Many of those who led the wave of popular protests that ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11 want a radically new document that would break the total hold that the presidency held over government during Mubarak's rule. They worry that the Brotherhood or former ruling party could dominate the process.

In an interview with daily El-Shorouk, a top member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said that the council will issue "a constitutional declaration" right after the announcement of the final vote to lay down next steps, with approval leading to a timetable for parliament and presidential elections.

Elections commission chief Ahmed Attiya said 41 percent of 45 million eligible voters cast ballots in Saturday's referendum. More than 14 million (77.2 percent) voted in favor, with around 4 million (22.8 percent) opposed.

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