Kerry says huge Egypt vote turnout ‘very exciting’

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CAIRO: Senior US Senator John Kerry described as "very exciting" Sunday the huge turnout for Egypt’s first taste of democracy after the ouster of veteran president Hosni Mubarak.

"I thought the referendum was very exciting. The numbers of people who voted, the excitement, the way they conducted themselves, there was a lot of energy," Kerry said on a visit to Cairo the day after the landmark vote.

"People voted for the first time in 30 years, not knowing what the outcome would be and I think it’s a very good sign for the steps ahead, a very good sign," he added.

Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was speaking to reporters as he toured Cairo’s iconic Tahrir Square, epicenter of the 18 straight days of mass protests that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule.

Earlier US ambassador Margaret Scobey hailed the huge turnout for the referendum on constitutional changes intended to oversee fresh elections within six months and a swift return to civilian rule after Mubarak quit last month and handed power to a military council.

"Egyptians yesterday took an important step towards realizing the aspirations of the January 25 revolution," Scobey said in a statement.

"As we continue to assess reports about the voting, and regardless of the eventual outcome, the sight of Egyptians coming forward in unprecedented numbers to peacefully exercise their newly won freedoms is cause for great optimism," she said.

Over 14 million voted in favor of the amendments, making 77.8 percent of the voters. Out of 18 million voters, 22.8 percent said no. The turnout was 41.19 percent of eligible voters.

After the results were announced, national Security Advisor Tom Donilon said that US officials "want to congratulate the Egyptian people, and the government" on the reforms.

The military council has vowed to organize free and fair presidential elections within six months and a rapid restoration of civilian rule.

But the tight timetable it has set for the transition, leaving new political parties scant time to organize, has angered the young protesters who spearheaded the Tahrir demonstrations as well as leading opposition figures and secular parties.

They mainly campaigned for a "no" vote in Saturday’s referendum, making the outcome difficult to predict in the absence of any opinion polls.

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