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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 August 2007, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Thai voters 'approve new charter'
Gen Surayud Chulanont, Thailand's post-coup prime minister, casts his vote on 19 August
Gen Surayud said the charter would go to the king shortly
Thailand's military coup leaders have won a referendum on a new constitution by a large margin, taking around 70% of Sunday's vote, exit polls suggest.

It was the first vote to be held since Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted by the army last year and replaced with Gen Surayud Chulanont.

About 60% of voters turned out, according to the election commission.

Thaksin supporters had urged a No vote, saying the new constitution had been drafted by an illegitimate government.

But Prime Minister Surayud said the result marked a victory.

"We consider that this constitution has been approved by the people, and by the end of August the constitution will be submitted to the king for endorsement," he told national television.

He said that the vote meant elections to restore democracy would be held by the end of the year.

This referendum was about a lot more than the 194-page constitution which few Thais are likely to have read, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Bangkok - it was also a vote on the coup itself.

'Loopholes'

The charter is meant to replace the popular 1997 constitution, which the generals tore up after seizing power.

Thaksin Shinawatra and family applaud at a Manchester City game in the UK on 19 August
Mr Thaksin, owner of Manchester City FC, was at a game on Sunday

Critics say the new constitution is less democratic, as it proposes that the Senate should be only partly elected.

But the government says there were too many loopholes in the old charter that allowed Mr Thaksin to abuse power.

Its also says the new charter has many other clauses, like those recognising minority rights, which are more liberal than before.

The draft document limits future prime ministers to two terms in office and makes it easier to impeach them.

The military has promised elections to restore democratic government by the end of the year, on the basis of the new constitution.

Considerable opposition to the new rulers remains in the countryside of the north and north-east, where poor farmers stay loyal to Mr Thaksin.

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