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Constitutional Amendment to Allow Egypt's First Direct Presidential Elections Wins 83 Percent Approval

A constitutional amendment to allow Egypt's first direct presidential elections won 83 percent approval in a national referendum - according to Egypt's Interior Ministry. Wednesday's vote, however, was marred by violence between police and opposition protesters, who have denounced the amendment.

Egyptian officials say 54 percent of registered voters turned out for Tuesday's vote - the highest figure of any presidential referendum so far. But there was no independent, outside monitoring of the election results or the turnout.

Six opposition groups called for a boycott of the referendum. They called it a sham, claiming its strict rules ensure that President Hosni Mubarak will never face a serious challenge.

"We refuse to participate, we refuse to be a part of it, we refuse to mislead the people," said Ayman Nour, the leader of the al-Ghad Party, "We have to tell the people that what is happening now is not a real amendment to article 76, but a watering down of the article of its content, which should have included real constitutional reforms."

Anti-Mubarak protesters were physically carried away by police during a demonstration in Cairo Wednesday, after clashing with Mubarak supporters. Witnesses say female protesters appeared to be especially targeted by police.

During her visit to Cairo earlier this week, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush endorsed Mr. Mubarak's plans for elections later this year, calling his efforts "bold and wise."

At the White House Thursday, President Bush said he does not regret his administration's support of President Mubarak, but said true democratic elections in Egypt must grant access to independent monitors. He also denounced Wednesday's violence.

George W. Bush

"The idea of people expressing themselves in opposition to the government and them getting beaten is not our view of how a democracy ought to work," said President Bush. "It's not the way that you have free elections."

President Mubarak has led Egypt since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. He has been reinstalled every six years since then in single-candidate referenda, now abolished. President Mubarak has not formally announced he will run again this year, but is widely expected to do so.