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Egyptian Parliament Approves Constitutional Amendments

Egypt's parliament has approved a series of constitutional amendments that the government describes as reforms but the opposition calls a blow to democracy.

Parliament speaker Fathi Sorour announced the passage of the 34 amendments Monday, saying 315 lawmakers in the 454-member chamber voted in favor of the measures.

More than 100 opposition lawmakers - mainly from the Islamic group, Muslim Brotherhood - boycotted the vote.

The constitutional amendments still must be approved in a referendum, which is expected to be held March 26.

The amendments include sweeping security powers, and they sideline the Muslim Brotherhood. They also reduce the role of judges in monitoring elections, and they ban religious groups from forming political parties.

Opposition leaders say the changes also make it easier for Mr. Mubarak's son, Gamal, to succeed him. Gamal Mubarak has denied having presidential ambitions.

Earlier this week, the international rights group, Amnesty International, denounced the proposed changes.

In a written statement, the rights group said the amendments are "the most serious undermining of human rights safeguards" since emergency laws were put in place in Egypt in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

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