Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say
A woman holds a placard reading "Boycott to Putin's amendments" as she protests against amendments to the Constitution of Russia on Dvortsovaya Square in downtown Saint Petersburg on July 1, 2020, as Russians vote in the final day of a ballot on constitutional reforms allowing President Putin to potentially stay in power until 2036. (AFP)
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Updated 01 July 2020

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say

Russians back reforms allowing Putin to extend rule, partial results say
  • There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year
  • The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week

MOSCOW: Russians overwhelmingly approved a package of constitutional changes in a nationwide vote, partial results showed Wednesday, allowing President Vladimir Putin to potentially extend his two-decade rule until 2036.
With almost 30 percent of polling stations reporting after the end of six days of voting, 74 percent of voters had supported the reforms, the central election commission said.
There had been little doubt of voters backing the changes, which Putin announced earlier this year and critics denounced as a manoeuvre to allow him to stay in the Kremlin for life.
The amendments had been passed weeks ago by Russia's parliament and copies of the new constitution were already on sale in bookshops, but Putin had said voter approval was essential to give them legitimacy.
The reforms include conservative and populist measures -- like guaranteed minimum pensions and an effective ban on gay marriage -- but crucially for Putin also reset presidential limits allowing him to run twice again after his current six-year term expires in 2024.
Turnout as of 1700 GMT was just under 65 percent, the election commission said.
The Kremlin pulled out all the stops to encourage voting, with polls extended over nearly a week, the last day of voting declared a national holiday and prizes -- including apartments and cars -- on offer to voters.
Initially planned for April 22, the referendum was postponed by the coronavirus pandemic but rescheduled after Putin said the epidemic had peaked and officials began reporting lower numbers of new cases.
In a final appeal to voters on Tuesday, Putin said the changes were needed to ensure Russia's future "stability, security, prosperity".
State television showed Putin voting Wednesday at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was handed a ballot by an electoral worker wearing a surgical mask and gloves.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, Putin was not wearing any protective gear.
At a polling station in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, 79-year-old Valentina Kungurtseva told AFP she supported the reforms.
"For us as pensioners, it's very important that they will increase our pension every year," she said, adding that she had no problem with resetting presidential terms.
"As long as we have a good president, life will be good," she said.
In the second city, Saint Petersburg, 20-year-old Sergei Goritsvetov said he opposed the reforms but doubted it would make any difference.
"I voted against and I hope there will be many of us, but I don't know what it will change," he said. "At least I expressed my opinion."
Chief opposition campaigner Alexei Navalny said Putin, 67 and in power as president or prime minister since 2000, wants to make himself "president for life" and called for a boycott.
But the opposition -- divided, weakened by years of political repression and with little access to state-controlled media -- failed to mount a serious "no" campaign.
Golos, an independent election monitor, said it had received hundreds of complaints of violations, including people voting more than once and claims employers were putting pressure on staff to cast ballots.
Election commission chief Ella Pamfilova denied any problems on Wednesday, saying: "During the entire voting period no serious violations... were found."
Putin's approval rating has fallen in recent months, in part over early mistakes in the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis. It stood at 60 percent in June according to pollster Levada, down 20 points from the months after his re-election in 2018.
Analysts say Putin wanted to get the vote over with before Russians -- already suffering from several years of falling incomes -- are hit by the full economic impact of the pandemic.
Putin said in a recent interview that he had not decided whether to run again but suggested that part of the reason for the presidential reset was to allow Russia's political elite to focus on governing instead of "hunting for possible successors".


Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal amid Turkey tensions

Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal amid Turkey tensions
Updated 25 January 2021

Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal amid Turkey tensions

Greece, France to sign $2.8 billion fighter jet deal amid Turkey tensions
  • Florence Parly, the French defense minister, signed the agreement in Athens to deliver 12 used and six new aircraft
  • France has sided with Greece in a dispute with Turkey over boundaries in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean

ATHENS, Greece: Greece signed a 2.3 billion-euro ($2.8 billion) deal with France on Monday to purchase 18 Rafale fighter jets, as tensions remain high with neighbor Turkey.
Florence Parly, the French defense minister, signed the agreement in Athens to deliver 12 used and six new aircraft built by Dassault Aviation over two years, starting in July.
France has sided with Greece in a dispute over boundaries in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean that has brought NATO members Greece and Turkey to the brink of war several times in recent decades.
Tension spiked again last summer when a Turkish exploration mission in disputed waters triggered a dangerous military build-up.
Greece and Turkey have agreed to restart talks aimed at resolving the dispute peacefully. Senior diplomats from the two countries met in Istanbul Monday to resume the process that had been interrupted for nearly five years.
But Athens says it will continue a multibillion-euro program to upgrade its military following years of cuts due to the country’s financial crisis.
France and the United States are in competition to provide the Greek navy with new frigates, while Greece’s government recently approved plans to cooperate with Israeli defense electronics firm Elbit Systems to create a new military flight academy in southern Greece.
“The upgrade in the capabilities of the Hellenic Air Force by means of both the acquisition of new fighter aircraft and the new state-of-the-art training center is critical for Greece to present a credible deterrence,” Michael Tanchum, a senior fellow at the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy, told The Associated Press.
“It also provides Athens an enhanced ability to exercise more strategic autonomy when EU and NATO frameworks are deemed inadequate, making Greece more of a player in its own right.”
Starting in May, mandatory national service in the Greek Armed Forces will be increased from nine to 12 months to boost the number of people serving in uniform. While in Athens, Parly will also holding talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.