The United States on Saturday condemned Sri Lanka's passage of a constitutional amendment granting the president new powers, saying it undermined democracy.

Sri Lanka's parliament on Wednesday voted for the measure sought by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It eliminates presidential term limits and grants the president more power over appointments to the police, judiciary, public service and electoral commissions.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called on Mr. Rajapaksa's government to take steps to strengthen independent institutions, increase transparency and promote national reconciliation.

The government argued the constitutional change was justified to give Mr. Rajapaksa time to build Sri Lanka's economy after a long civil war with Tamil Tiger separatists.

Mr. Rajapaksa is now eligible to run in 2016 for a third presidential term.

Opposition and rights groups criticized the measure as a blow to democracy and a step toward dictatorship by Mr. Rajapaksa.

Critics also accuse him of stifling dissent, jailing opponents and disregarding the rule of law as he holds an office with almost unchecked control of the government.

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