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Thai PM Claims Victory in Constitution Referendum


Thailand's military-backed prime minister, Surayud Chulanot, is claiming victory in a public referendum on a new draft constitution.

Mr. Surayud declared victory after exit polls indicated 68 percent of voters approved the charter today.

Speaking on national television shortly after polling stations closed, Mr. Surayud said he will submit the draft constitution to the king for approval by the end of the month.

The Election Committee has yet to release the official election results, which will indicate how many of Thailand's 45 million voters turned out for the referendum.

Political analysts say a low turnout would undermine the credibility of the government, and the military that oversees it.

Mr. Surayud has said if the military-backed constitution is approved, the government will hold general elections in December.

The draft constitution reduces the number of parliamentary seats and limits the prime minister's time in office.

Critics say the charter is a step backward for democracy because it was drafted by a panel created by the military leaders. Advocates say the constitution will steer Thailand back to democracy.

Thailand's military leaders removed former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless military coup last September. They accused him of corruption and of using loopholes in the old constitution to dominate parliament.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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