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Voters Approve Egyptian Elections Referendum

In a national referendum, Egyptians have overwhelming approved election reforms that pave the way for the country's first multi-candidate presidential elections.

The minister of interior said Thursday about half of Egyptians registered to vote, or about a quarter of the country's entire population, cast their ballot in the referendum to amend Egypt's constitution. He said almost 83 percent voted in favor of the constitutional change.

Public sector employees voted heavily in Wednesday's referendum, as they do in most Egyptian elections. Many reportedly left work early and were transported to polling stations on public buses.

Up to now, only one candidate ran for office and voters in a presidential election had the choice of saying yes or no to that candidate. President Hosni Mubarak has served four terms, 24 years, under this system. Under the constitutional amendment, voters will now choose among different candidates.

But the amendment sets a number of restrictions on potential candidates, sparking numerous protests from the opposition. Anti-Mubarak groups, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood, said the presidential election in September will not be truly democratic. They called on Egyptian voters to boycott the referendum.

According to many news accounts, plainclothes police agents and youth gangs attacked demonstrators during the referendum Wednesday. Several women were knocked to the ground, beaten, stripped of their clothes and groped. The White House denounced the attacks.

President Mubarak has not said whether he will run again in the September ballot for a fifth term.