Putin urges Russians to approve constitution changes in referendum

Russian President Vladimir Putin encouraged citizens on Tuesday to approve changes to the constitution that could enable him to run for re-election twice more and potentially remain in power for the next 16 years.

Putin, 67, has been in power for two decades as president or prime minister, and is currently the longest-serving Russian or Soviet leader since Joseph Stalin.

"We can ensure stability, security, prosperity and a dignified life for people only through development and only together," Putin said in an address, a transcript of which was posted on the Kremlin's website.

The referendum is intended to give a veneer of democracy to the largest package of amendments to Russia's constitution since its adoption in 1993 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Citizens can give only a yes or no to the whole package, which has already been approved by 's parliament and signed by Putin.

The referendum, with its main and final day of voting scheduled for next Wednesday, is widely expected to pass.

"People are voting, rather apathetically, for stability," Russian political expert Anna Arutunyan told dpa.

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