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Turkey Approves Constitutional Changes

  • Dorian Jones

The Turkish government has announced that about 60 percent of voters in Sunday referendum have approved a package of changes to the country's 30-year-old, military-era constitution. The government says the reforms are important for Turkish democracy. But opponents say the changes undermine the independence of the Turkey's judiciary.

Thousands of supporters chanted "Turkey is proud of you," as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated the outcome of the referendum. The size of the victory came as a surprise to many analysts because recent opinion surveys pointed to a vote that was too close to call.

Mr. Erdogan addressed his supporters on Sunday. "On the 12th of September, democracy has won," he said. "The only people defeated were those who support coups. Both those who said 'Yes' and those who said 'No' won today because democracy was advanced for everyone."

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Erdogan said the reforms were aimed to sever the country's links with its past, when Turkey was run by the military.

The 26 reforms include putting the military under the control of civilian courts. Women and trade union rights will also be extended.

Under another provision, military leaders responsible for the 1980 coup would no longer have immunity from prosecution.

But critics of the reforms - including the country's two main opposition political parties - criticize changes to the judiciary, which they say will put the courts under the control of the government.

Under the changes, the constitutional court will increase from 11 to 17 judges, and the government will have a greater say in the appointment of senior judges and prosecutors. Critics caution that the judiciary is one of the last checks to the ruling Justice and Developments Party's power, which enjoys a large majority in parliament.

Supporters of the government say the judiciary has been an undemocratic hindrance, and that the reforms will strengthen democracy.

The constitutional changes are also welcomed by the European Union. Negotiations for Turkey to join the 27-member EU have made little progress since starting in 2005, with France and Germany both expressing opposition to Turkey's bid.