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Moroccans Overwhelmingly Approve New Constitution

A Moroccan posts her ballot at a voting station in Sale, near Rabat, July 1, 2011

A Moroccan posts her ballot at a voting station in Sale, near Rabat, July 1, 2011

Moroccans have overwhelmingly approved the constitutional reforms that King Mohammed VI says will bring democratic reform to his country.

Moroccan officials said 98 percent of voters Friday voted to approve the new constitution, with a stunning 72 percent of the 13 million registered voters casting a ballot.

King Mohammed announced his proposed reforms last month. The referendum would limit his power while strengthening parliament and the prime minister's office.

Related video: Interview with Aziz Mekaour, Morocco's Ambassador to US

But the country's youth-based pro-democracy movement has criticized the proposed changes for not meeting what they called "demands for a true separation of powers."

Critics say the new constitution still keeps Mohammed firmly in power by allowing him to choose the prime minister from the party that won the elections and continue to oversee the country's religious matters, security apparatus and judiciary.

It also allows him to dissolve parliament, though not unilaterally.

In Washington Friday, State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the United States welcomed the peaceful referendum during a period of "profound change for Morocco."

In February, pro-democracy demonstrations swept across Morocco like much of North Africa and the Middle East. However, the effect of the so-called "Arab Spring" movement has been somewhat muted in Morocco compared to the protests that toppled rulers in Tunisia and Egypt.

The 47-year-old King Mohammed took over the Arab world's longest-serving dynasty in 1999. He currently holds virtually all power in the Muslim north African country and is its top religious authority.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.