Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Senior official in north Serbia urges boycott of constitutional referendum

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) - A senior official in northern Serbia on Wednesday called for a boycott of the upcoming referendum on a new constitution that declares independence-seeking Kosovo an integral part of Serb territory.

The draft constitution -- drawn up by Serbia's main political parties and approved this month by parliament -- also defines the country as independent for the first time since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Bojan Kostres, the parliament speaker in the northern Vojvodina province, urged people to reject the draft constitution by boycotting the referendum -- adding to the mounting criticism against the document.

More than half of some 6 million Serbian voters must approve the draft constitution in the Oct. 28-29 referendum for it to take effect.

Critics say it was drawn up too hastily, with no public discussion beforehand, and does not define Serbia as a modern European state.

Kostres said it did not grant sufficient autonomy to Vojvodina, the richest province in Serbia, and that a referendum boycott was "the only way to defend the interest of Vojvodina."

Several other liberal parties have also announced plans to boycott the vote. Ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia said they would stay away, to protest the document's including Kosovo within the definition of Serbia's borders.

Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian, is seeking independence in U.N.-led talks on the province's future status. Serbia as well as the province's Serb minority wants it to have broad autonomy but remain within Serbian territory.

Serbian officials have said Kosovo's 2 million ethnic Albanians will not be invited to vote on the draft constitution.

Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's government launched a massive pro-referendum campaign, enlisting Serbia's soccer team and prominent individuals on its side.

Kostunica defended the draft text on Tuesday, saying it would "stabilize Serbia and prevent its disintegration."

An opinion poll published Wednesday by the Medium Gallup polling agency indicated turnout would be between 56 and 58 percent. No margin of error was given.

No comments: