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Serbo Journal

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Serbia stronger with new constitution

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica Sunday hailed his people's approval of a new constitution which affirms that the disputed ethnic-Albanian majority province of Kosovo is part of Serbia, saying it strengthened his nation.

"This is the moment in which Serbia clearly approves its unity, that Kosovo is an integral part of Serbia," Kostunica told Serbian state television RTS shortly after the vote was deemed valid by independent observers.

"Serbia is stronger with the constitution, which once again declares that Kosovo is an integral part of it," he said, claiming that the new constitution was "a proof of Serbia's strength, maturity and responsibility. "

A total of 51.6 percent of Serbia's 6.6 million-strong electorate supported the new constitution, said Zoran Lucic of the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, which monitors polls throughout the former Yugoslavia.

The new constitution claims disputed Kosovo as an "integral" part of Serbia, in an apparent bid to pre-empt UN-backed talks on the province's status, which are widely expected to lead to a form of independence by the year's end. "My first impressions (after the vote) are exceptional, " Kostunica said.

"This is a historic moment, the beginning of Serbia's new development. Serbia is happy, and with reason, for we have done a huge job together." Kosovo's independence- seeking ethnic Albanians who form the majority in the province ignored the vote, as they have done with all Serbian polls since 1990.

Serbia faces the prospect of losing Kosovo as UN-backed negotiations on the future of the southern province -- now in their eighth month -- falter, with Belgrade and Pristina far apart on most issues.

Serbian President Boris Tadic had earlier called on electoral officials to "give their utmost in order to avoid even the slightest doubt on the referendum vote" during the vote count. "Citizens of Serbia have decided to support the European Serbia," Tadic said.

"Our political goal is not only the new constitution, but European standards for our citizens and, finally, membership of the European Union," Tadic told RTS.

The new constitution was unanimously backed by the Serbian parliament on September 30, in a rare show of political unity in this former Yugoslav republic.

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