Scottish voters decisively rejected independence after voting to stay in the UK.
With 31 out of the country’s 32 council areas having declared after Thursday’s vote, the “No” side has an unassailable lead of 1,914,187 votes to 1,539,920.
Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond called for unity and the unionist parties to deliver on more powers.
UK’s PM David Cameron said he was delighted the UK would remain together and called for national unity.
The result became a mathematical certainty at 06:08, as the returning officer in Fife announced a comfortable “No” vote.
Shortly afterwards, Alex Salmond said he accepted the defeat and called for national unity.
He said the referendum and the high turnout had been a “triumph for the democratic process” and promised to keep his pledge in the Edinburgh Agreement which paved the way for the referendum to respect the result and work for the benefit of Scotland and the UK.
He told supporters: “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland.
Scottish voters decisively rejected independence after voting to stay in the UK (photo Bloomberg)
“Scotland will expect these to be honored in rapid course – as a reminder, we have been promised a second reading of a Scotland Bill by March 27 next year.
“Not just the 1.6 million Scots who voted for independence will demand that timetable is followed but all Scots who participated in this referendum will demand that timetable is followed.”
Alex Salmond said he would shortly speak to the prime minister on the results.
He highlighted the “empowerment” of first-time voters, including 16 and 17-year-olds.
And the First Minister said: “Whatever else we can say about this referendum campaign, we have touched sections of the community who have never before been touched by politics, these sections of the community have touched us and touched the political process.
“I don’t think that will ever be allowed to go back to business as usual in politics again.”
In a rallying call to his supporters, Alex Salmond urged the “Yes” voters to reflect on how far they had come.
“I don’t think any of us, whenever we entered politics, would have thought such a thing to be either credible or possible,” he said.
“Over the last few weeks we have seen a scare and a fear of enormous proportions – not a scaremongering directed at the Scottish people but the scare and the fear at the heart of the Westminster establishment as they realize the mass movement of people that was going forward in Scotland.
“Today of all days as we bring Scotland together, let us not dwell on the distance we have fallen short, let us dwell on the distance we have travelled and have confidence the movement is abroad in Scotland that will take this nation forward and we shall go forward as one nation.”
This margin of victory for the Better Together campaign – 55% to 45% – was greater by about 3% than that anticipated by the final opinion polls. The winning total needed was 1,852,828.
Speaking in Downing Street, David Cameron said the result was decisive.
He said: “Now the debate has been settled for a generation, or as Alex Salmond has said: <<Perhaps for a lifetime>>.
“So their can be no disputes, no re-runs, we have heard the will of the Scottish people.”
David Cameron said the three main unionist parties at Westminster would now follow through with their pledge to deliver more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk regions – have announced 89% and 96% respectively voted in favor of “self-rule”.
Ukraine has condemned two unofficial referendums organized in the east of the country as “a farce” with no legal basis.
Russia has called for the results to be implemented without any further outbreaks of violence.
In a brief statement, the Kremlin described the referendums as “the will of the people” and noted the “high turnout”.
Pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk say 89 percent and 96 percent respectively voted in favor of self-rule (photo Getty Images)
The Russian authorities said they expected the results of the vote to be implemented in a civilized manner, without any repetition of violence and called for dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Kremlin suggested that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could help organize such a dialogue.
Later Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there were no plans to hold fresh international talks on the crisis – he accused the West of an “information blockade” over events in Ukraine and of “shameless lies”.
Earlier, Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov told Ukraine’s parliament that “the farce that terrorist separatists call a referendum is nothing more than propaganda to cover up murders, kidnappings, violence and other serious crimes”.
The EU and US also said the polls were illegal.
A number of towns in the two eastern regions refused to hold the referendums.
They were held despite an earlier call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay them in order to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.
After the first round of voting in which voters were asked whether they supported self-rule, a second round of voting is planned in a week’s time, asking whether people support joining Russia.
Organizers also say they will boycott Ukraine’s presidential elections on May 25.
National guardsmen fired on a crowd Sunday in eastern Ukraine, where voters were lining up for a disputed referendum on whether to split from rest of the country.
Eastern Ukraine referendums seek approval to declare sovereign the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (photo CBC)
An insurgent leader was quoted by the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass as saying that there were fatalities.
The Associated Press reported that one of its photographers witnessed the shooting, in the town of Krasnoarmeisk, where dozens of guardsmen had shut down voting earlier in the day.
The photographer saw two people motionless on the ground, the AP reported.
Eastern Ukraine referendums seek approval to declare sovereign the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where armed pro-Russia insurgents have taken control of government buildings and clashed with Ukrainian troops.
Pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine are holding “self-rule” referendums – a move condemned by the Ukrainian government and the West.
Self-proclaimed leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are going ahead with the vote despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to postpone it.
Self-proclaimed leaders in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are going ahead with the vote despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call to postpone it
Ukraine says the vote could result in the “self-destruction” of the regions.
Pro-Russian gunmen occupying offices in a number of towns have been involved in heavy clashes with Ukrainian troops.
Reports say there was a fierce fighting overnight on the outskirts of the rebel-held city of Sloviansk, which remains sealed by government troops conducting what the government in Kiev describes as an “anti-terror” operation.
At least seven people were killed in clashes in the port of Mariupol on Friday, officials said.
Referendum organizers said earlier this week that most of the polling stations were controlled by pro-Russian activists and would be ready for voting.
Millions of ballot papers have been prepared.
They contain only one question in both Ukrainian and Russian: “Do you support the act of state self-rule of the Donetsk People’s Republic/Luhansk People’s Republic?”
The organizers have suggested they intend to hold a second round of voting later this month, on joining Russia. They also say they will boycott Ukraine’s presidential elections on May 25.
There are no independent or international observers involved in Sunday’s vote.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s interim President Oleksandr Turchynov admitted many in eastern Ukraine supported the pro-Russian militants, but warned that the referendums were “a step towards the abyss”.
The EU and US have also condemned the referendums, amid fears that Ukraine could be sliding to civil war.
A survey by the Pew Research Centre suggested a majority even in eastern Ukraine – 70% – wanted to remain in a united country, despite concerns about governance.
President Vladimir Putin earlier called for a postponement of the vote to create the conditions necessary for dialogue.
Last month, Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern autonomous republic of Crimea, after a referendum.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are discussing the bloc’s response, including imposing a visa ban and an asset freeze against a number of Russian officials following Crimea’s controversial referendum on Sunday.
According to Crimean officials, Sunday’s referendum overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine.
Ukraine’s chief electoral official, Mikhail Malyshev, said the vote was nearly 97% in favor of joining the Russian Federation, with a turnout of 83%.
The EU has already suspended talks on an economic pact with Russia and an easing of visa restrictions.
The EU will impose a visa ban and an asset freeze against a number of Russian officials following Crimea’s controversial referendum
Speaking in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the “so-called referendum” was “illegal under the constitution of Ukraine and under international law”.
“I call upon Russia yet again to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to start a dialogue with them, and to try to move to de-escalation, please, as quickly as possible. We’ve seen no evidence of that,” Catherine Ashton told reporters.
The baroness said the EU “can’t simply sit back and say this situation can be allowed to happen”, but that ministers needed to think carefully about what their response should be.
The White House has also described Russia’s actions in Crimea as “dangerous and destabilizing”, and said the international community would not recognize the results of a poll “administered under threats of violence”.
President Barack Obama has warned Moscow that Washington is also ready to impose “costs” over its actions in Ukraine.
Crimean parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation.
The move follows Sunday’s controversial referendum which officials say overwhelmingly backed joining Russia.
The government in Kiev has said it will not recognize the results. The US and EU say the vote was illegal and have vowed to impose sanctions on Moscow.
The Crimean peninsula has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February.
Moscow says the troops are pro-Russian self-defense forces and not under its direct control.
The crisis follows the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22, following months of street protests and deadly clashes.
Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called the vote “a circus performance” which had been backed up by “21,000 Russian troops, who with their guns are trying to prove the legality of the referendum”.
Crimean parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation
The vote was boycotted by many among Crimea’s minority Ukrainian and Tatar population, and the election process has been widely criticized.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev has formally approved the partial mobilization of 40,000 reservists, in response to what it called the “war-time situation”.
Interim President Oleksandr Turchynov described the referendum as a “great farce” which “will never be recognized either by Ukraine or by the civilized world”.
According to the vote in Crimea’s parliament on Monday, Ukrainian laws now no longer apply in the region and all state Ukrainian state property belongs to an independent Crimea.
The region will adopt the Russian currency, the rouble, and will move to Moscow time – two hours ahead – by the end of March.
The document approved by Crimean lawmakers also appealed to “all countries of the world to recognise it as an independent state”.
The referendum on breaking from Ukraine and joining Russia was called in early March by the Crimean parliament, with voters asked to choose between joining Russia, or having greater autonomy within Ukraine.
There was no option for those who wanted the constitutional arrangements to remain unchanged.
Ukraine’s chief electoral official, Mikhail Malyshev, said the vote was 96.6% in favor of joining the Russian Federation, with a turnout of 83%.
Crimea’s Tatar population – about 12% of the population – said they would boycott the vote, fearing their lives would be worse under the Kremlin.
The Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944. They were only able to return with the fall of the Soviet Union and many want to remain in Ukraine.
People in Ukraine’s region Crimea are voting on whether or not to re-join Russia in a referendum condemned as “illegal” by Kiev and the West but backed by Moscow.
Russian troops have taken de facto control of the majority ethnic-Russian region, and voters are expected to support leaving Ukraine.
Crimean Tatars are boycotting the vote, pledging their allegiance to Kiev.
Russia earlier vetoed a draft UN resolution criticizing the vote – the only Security Council member to do so.
The US-drafted document was supported by 13 Council members. China, regarded as a Russian ally on the issue, abstained from the vote.
The US and EU have warned they would slap further tough sanctions against Russian officials if the referendum goes ahead.
Crimea are voting on whether or not to re-join Russia (photo AFP)
Russia intervened in the Crimean peninsula by seizing control of government buildings and blocking Ukraine’s troops at their bases after the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych on February 22.
However, the Kremlin officially denies deploying extra troops there, describing them as Crimea’s “self-defense forces”.
Polling stations across Crimea opened at 08:00 local time and will close 12 hours later.
Voters are being asked whether they would like Crimea to rejoin Russia.
A second question asks whether Ukraine should return to its status under the 1992 constitution, which would give the region much greater autonomy.
Some 1.5 million voters are eligible to cast their ballots, and the first results are expected to be released shortly after the referendum.
Ethnic Russians form a clear majority in the region (58.5%), and many of them are expected to vote for joining Russia.
The US and EU have joined Ukraine’s new government in condemning as “illegal” the Crimean referendum to endorse joining Russia.
The EU, meeting in Brussels, threatened “serious consequences” if Russia did not act to de-escalate the crisis.
Crimea’s parliament earlier set a date of March 16 for a vote on the referendum.
Russian troops took de facto control of Crimea, whose population is mostly ethnic Russian, in the wake of the fall of Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president.
The Crimean parliament on Thursday said it had decided “to enter into the Russian Federation with the rights of a subject of the Russian Federation”.
It said it had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin “to start the procedure”.
The US and EU have joined Ukraine’s new government in condemning as “illegal” the Crimean referendum to endorse joining Russia
Before the Brussels summit, some EU members – led by Germany – had indicated they preferred mediation with Russia to try to solve the crisis, rather than any stronger measures.
But correspondents say the Crimean parliament move has clearly toughened the line taken by the EU.
In press conferences after the talks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy both said the Crimean referendum was contrary to the Ukrainian constitution and therefore illegal.
The EU said it was suspending talks with Moscow on easing travel restrictions on Russians entering the EU.
It said that if Russia did not move to de-escalate the situation quickly, it would “decide on additional measures, such as travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit”.
The EU statement said that “any further steps by the Russian Federation to destabilize the situation in Ukraine would lead to severe and far-reaching consequences… which will include a broad range of economic areas”.
President Barack Obama said the Crimea referendum would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and international law”.
The US president said there was a way to resolve the crisis with Russia through diplomacy but that “if the violation continues, the resolve of the US and its allies will remain firm”.
Barack Obama praised the “international unity on display at this moment”.
The US had earlier issued visa restrictions on a number of unnamed Ukrainian and Russian officials and individuals “to deny visas to those responsible for, or complicit in, threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Voters in Switzerland have narrowly backed a referendum proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from EU countries.
Final results showed 50.3% voted in favor. The vote invalidates the Swiss-EU agreement on freedom of movement.
Fiercely independent Switzerland is not a member of the EU, but has adopted large sections of EU policy.
Brussels said it regretted the outcome of the vote and would examine its implications.
A Yes vote of more than 50% was needed for the referendum to pass.
The vote has shown up traditional divisions, with French-speaking areas against the quotas, German-speaking regions divided, and the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino firmly in favor.
In a statement, the European Commission said it regretted that an “initiative for the introduction of quantitative limits to immigration has been passed by this vote.
Voters in Switzerland have narrowly backed a referendum proposal to bring back strict quotas for immigration from EU countries
“This goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole. In this context, the Federal Council’s position on the result will also be taken into account.”
The vote comes amid increasing debate across Europe about migration and the impact of free movement of people.
Switzerland’s economy is booming at the moment, and unemployment is low, but many Swiss worry about immigration.
A quarter of the eight million-strong population is foreign, and last year 80,000 new immigrants arrived.
Since 2007, most of the EU’s 500 million residents have been on an equal footing with locals in the Swiss job market – the result of a policy voted into law in a 2000 referendum.
But a coalition led by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party now wants to reverse this deal, saying it was a huge mistake.
Supporters of quotas believe free movement has put pressure on housing, health, education, and transport. They also argue that foreign workers drive salaries down.
But the Swiss government and business leaders say free movement is key to Switzerland’s economic success, allowing employers to choose skilled staff from across Europe.
Switzerland’s bilateral agreements with the EU took years of negotiation to achieve.
Abandoning free movement could limit Switzerland’s access to Europe’s single market, where over half its exports are sold.
The results of a two-day referendum showed that the proposed new Egyptian constitution has been backed by 98.1% of people, officials say.
Turnout was 38.6% of the 53 million eligible voters, the election committee said.
The draft constitution replaces one introduced by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi before he was ousted.
The referendum is being seen as a vote on the legitimacy of Mohamed Morsi’s removal and of the army, which toppled him in July last year.
The vote, which took place on Tuesday and Wednesday but was boycotted by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement from which Mohamed Morsi comes and which wants to see him returned to office.
Several people died in violence involving Mohamed Morsi’s supporters on the first day of voting.
Egypt’s draft constitution replaces one introduced by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi before he was ousted
There were further clashes with the security forces on Friday in which four people died, the Health Ministry said.
Election Commission head Nabil Salib called the vote an “unrivalled success” with “unprecedented turnout”, AP news agency reported.
A constitutional referendum held in 2012 while Mohamed Morsi was in power but boycotted by secularists saw a turnout of 33%, with 64% of voters approving the document.
The new proposed constitution was drafted by a 50-member committee that included only two representatives of Islamist parties.
Critics say the document favors the army at the expense of the people, and fails to deliver on the 2011 revolution that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak.
Under the draft:
The president may serve two four-year terms and can be impeached by parliament
Islam remains the state religion – but freedom of belief is absolute, giving some protection to minorities
The state guarantees “equality between men and women”
Parties may not be formed based on “religion, race, gender or geography”
Military to appoint defense minister for next eight years [youtube 4QHb1D3zQHI 650]
Egypt has begun voting in a two-day referendum on a new constitution, which could pave the way for fresh elections.
The new charter aims to replace the constitution passed under Islamist President Mohamed Morsi months before he was ousted by the army.
The military wants a strong “Yes” vote to endorse Mohamed Morsi’s removal.
Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, now designated a terrorist group, is boycotting the vote and there are fears of violence.
Shortly before voting began, an explosion took place near a court building in Cairo’s Imbaba district, although no casualties were reported.
A huge security operation is being mounted for the two days of voting. The interior ministry says 200,000 police officers, 150 central security units and 200 combat groups are being deployed around polling stations on both days.
Army chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited one polling station in north Cairo, telling guards there: “Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured.”
However, spotting any posters from the “No” campaign is a lot harder and people have been arrested for putting them up.
The referendum is seen by many as more than a ballot on a new constitution – it is widely viewed as a verdict on the removal of Mohamed Morsi.
Television pictures showed long lines of voters at some Cairo polling stations.
Interim PM Hazem Beblawi has called the referendum the “most critical moment” for Egypt.
After voting on Tuesday, he said: “Our country needs every vote from Egyptians.”
Egypt has begun voting in a two-day referendum on a new constitution
The new constitution was drafted by a 50-member committee that included only two representatives of Islamist parties.
The authorities maintain that the new draft delivers more rights and freedoms, and is a crucial step on the road to stability.
Under the new constitution:
The president may serve two four-year terms and can be impeached by parliament
Islam remains the state religion – but freedom of belief is absolute, giving some protection to minorities
The state guarantees “equality between men and women”
Parties may not be formed based on “religion, race, gender or geography”
Critics say the new constitution favors the army at the expense of the people, and fails to deliver on the revolution of 2011 which overthrew Hosni Mubarak.
The new constitution retains a provision allowing civilians to be tried in military courts, and it gives the military control over the appointment of the defense minister for the next eight years.
It also stipulates that the military’s budget will be beyond civilian oversight
A “yes” vote could also pave the way for fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.
It now seems certain that Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who backed Mohamed Morsi’s removal following mass protests, will run for president.
The constitution is expected to attract a resounding “Yes” vote, but the turnout is key, analysts say.
The last charter, passed just over a year ago, was approved by 63.8%, but only 32.9% of the population voted.
Mohamed Morsi was Egypt’s first democratically elected president but was deposed by the military last July.
He is being held in jail in Alexandria, facing several criminal charges relating to his time in office – which he says are politically motivated.
Many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s senior leaders and the movement’s supporters are also behind bars.
More than 1,000 people have died in violence since Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow.
Zimbabwe starts voting in key referendum on a new constitution, amid simmering political tensions.
Both main parties – Zanu-PF and the MDC – are urging their supporters to back the constitution, which would pave way for new elections later this year.
The polls could end a shaky power-sharing deal between the rival parties following a disputed vote in 2008.
Campaigning for the referendum was marred by an attack on an MDC politician in the capital, Harare.
Sten Zvorwadza, who hopes to become the next Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lawmaker for the city’s Mbare suburb, was punched as he tried to put up posters on Friday.
Although no-one was seriously injured, the incident is a reminder of the violence lurking close to the surface in Zimbabwe.
On Tuesday, a Zanu-PF official was injured after his house was petrol-bombed by unknown assailants in Makoni district, in north-eastern Zimbabwe.
And in February, the 12-year-old son of an MDC activist died in an alleged arson attack in the eastern farming district of Headlands.
Polls across Zimbabwe opened at 07:00 local time and are due to close at 19:00.
Zimbabwe starts voting in key referendum on a new constitution, amid simmering political tensions
In Mbare, the scene of Friday’s violence, more than 100 people were queuing outside a polling station as it opened, Reuters news agency reports.Under the new constitution, the president who wins the election, expected to be held in July, will be able to serve a maximum of two terms.Incumbent President Robert Mugabe, who has the backing of Zanu-PF, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is currently serving as prime minister, are both expected to compete for the presidency again.
Robert Mugabe, 89, has been in power since independence in 1980.
Zanu-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo said the president wanted people to vote peacefully.
“He said we should not have violence and added that the party will not tolerate that nonsense whether it is intra-party or inter-party. He wants the people to vote in peace,” Zimbabwe’s state-run Herald newspaper quotes Rugare Gumbo as saying.
Analysts say the constitution is seen as a compromise document.
Western and US observers have been barred from monitoring the referendum, but some 2,000 local and other foreign observers have been accredited for Saturday’s vote, the Herald reports.
The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a network of 31 non-government organizations whose head office was raided by police in February, is deploying about 600 observers.
UK’s PM David Cameron has said the British people must “have their say” on Europe as he pledged an in/out referendum if the Conservatives win the election.
David Cameron said he wanted to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU, before asking people to vote.
The British people would face a “very simple choice” either to accept the result of the talks, or to leave the EU altogether, he said.
Labour’s Ed Miliband said PM was “weak” and being driven by “party interest”.
In a long-awaited speech, David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum during the early part of the next parliament – by the end of 2017 at the latest – if the Conservatives win the next general election.
He said it would be a decision on the UK’s “destiny” and, if he secured a new relationship he was happy with, he would campaign “heart and soul” to stay within the EU.
“It is time for the British people to have their say,” the prime minister said.
“It is time to settle this European question in British politics. I say to the British people: this will be your decision.”
The Conservative leader has been under pressure from many of his MPs to give a binding commitment to a vote on Europe.
PM David Cameron has said the British people must have their say on Europe as he pledged an in-out referendum if the Conservatives win the election
David Cameron said “disillusionment” with the EU was “at an all time high” and “simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice” was likely to accelerate calls for the UK to leave.
“That is why I am in favor of a referendum,” he said.
“I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away.”
Setting out the conditions for a future poll, David Cameron said: “The next Conservative manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next parliament.
“And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in-or-out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether. It will be an in/out referendum.”
David Cameron said holding an in/out referendum now would be a “false choice” because Europe was set to change following the eurozone crisis and it would be “wrong to ask people whether to stay or go before we have had a chance to put the relationship right”.
The prime minister said he “understood the appeal” of Britain going it alone and said he was sure the UK would survive outside the EU. But, he said, the UK must think “very carefully” about the implications of withdrawal for its prosperity and role on the international stage.
“If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return,” he added.
David Cameron rejected suggestions that a new relationship was “impossible to achieve”, adding that he would prefer all other EU countries to agree a new treaty but would be prepared to seek negotiations on a unilateral basis.
Several Conservative MPs – who want a looser relationship with the EU focused around trade and who were briefed about the speech – have said they are “satisfied” with the thrust of its contents.
But some europhile Conservatives, including Lord Heseltine, have warned that committing to a referendum at some point in the future on the outcome of an uncertain negotiating process was an “unnecessary gamble”.
The Lib Dems say pursuing a wholesale renegotiation of the UK’s membership will cause uncertainty and deter foreign investment while Labour claim David Cameron’s approach is being driven by party calculations rather than the national interest.
Labour said the referendum pledge defined David Cameron “as a weak prime minister, being driven by his party, not by the national economic interest”.
“We understand the need for change but I don’t honestly believe the best way to get change in a club of 27 is to stand at the exit door demanding change or threatening to leave,” shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said.
The speech had been scheduled for last Friday in the Netherlands, but was postponed because of the Algerian hostage crisis.
Egyptians have begun voting on a new constitution endorsed by the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, which has divided the country and sparked deadly unrest.
President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have campaigned heavily in favor of the draft document, which may define Egypt for years to come.
Opponents say it is poorly drafted and overly favors Islamists.
The opposition National Salvation Front coalition has accused the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to rig the vote.
However, the ballot, which is staggered over Saturday and a second day of voting in a week’s time, appears to be going smoothly with indications of a high turnout.
Many people said they were voting for the restoration of stability in Egypt.
Saturday’s voting takes place in Cairo, Alexandria and eight other provinces, a week before the rest of the country.
Some 250,000 security personnel have been deployed to safeguard a referendum in which more than 51 million people are registered to vote.
Polling reportedly had to be spread out because few judges were willing to supervise the referendum but human rights groups have expressed fears the results from the first round could sway the opinion of those voting in the second.
Egyptians have begun voting on a new constitution endorsed by the Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, which has divided the country and sparked deadly unrest
A constitution must be in place before elections can be held early next year.
Mohamed Morsi was elected president in June with just over half of the vote, more than a year after Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a popular revolt in Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world.
The referendum is more than a vote on obscure clauses – it is about whether Egypt should be an Islamic country or a secular one.
The simple ballot paper just asks if Egyptians support or oppose the new constitution. Supporters include President Mohamed Morsi, who voted near the presidential palace in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, the Muslim Brotherhood and most other Islamists.
Opponents include liberals and others who want a more secular future for Egypt. Some of them say the new constitution would take away some of the new freedoms hard won in last year’s revolution.
Voters interviewed by Reuters news agency in Cairo were hopeful the vote would bring some calm to Egypt.
“I see this as a positive step for the country… a good base that we can start to work from,” said one, Ahmed Gindy.
In the northern port city of Alexandria, where there were clashes on Friday between rival activists fighting with clubs, stones and other weapons, Mohamed Ewais explained why he was voting “No”.
“I cannot accept a constitution with very limited, very limited actually, rights for minorities, rights for women, rights for even children,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
“It’s not suitable for Egypt, actually. We are taking about a country that has been in place for over 210 years as a modern state.”
Outside Cairo the situation has been calm amid high turnout:
In Alexandria, long queues formed at polling stations and voters complained about the waiting time
In Mahalla, a city in the Delta that has seen big anti-Morsi demonstrations, polling stations were heaving with people, with heated political discussions outside the voting booths
In Assiut, Upper Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is popular, there was tight security from the police and military, including tanks guarding some polling stations
The violence in Alexandria reportedly broke out after a cleric at a mosque urged worshippers to vote “Yes”.
Clashes continued late into the evening, with police firing tear gas, and at least 15 people injured in the fighting.
President Mohamed Morsi has granted the army powers to arrest civilians.
Supporters of the draft constitution have accused the opposition of sowing “lies and discord” about the referendum.
The opposition National Salvation Front had vehemently opposed the referendum but this week said its supporters should go to the ballot boxes to vote “No”.
In a statement on Saturday, it expressed “deep concern… over the number of irregularities and violations in the holding of the referendum”.
This, it alleged, pointed to a “clear desire for vote-rigging by the Muslim Brotherhood”.
However, the Egyptian army’s chief of staff, Gen Sedky Sobhi, said he was satisfied with the situation inside and outside polling stations.
Romanians are voting in a referendum on whether to impeach President Traian Basescu.
Traian Basescu has already been suspended by parliament in a series of moves that have caused alarm among Romania’s EU partners because of the speed of the process.
The government accuses Traian Basescu of exceeding his authority and of meddling in government affairs.
Traian Basescu denies the accusations and has urged a boycott of Sunday’s referendum.
Romanians are voting in a referendum on whether to impeach President Traian Basescu
Under a new Romanian law backed by Traian Basescu’s Liberal Democrat Party (PDL), more than half of the electorate will have to vote to make the result valid.
The referendum is one of the fiercest political clashes in Romania since the return of democracy in 1990.
The result is hard to predict but will have long-term repercussions for Romania’s political and economic stability.
The row has paralyzed political decision-making in Romania at a time when it is finalizing agreements on an IMF-backed aid package.
Traian Basescu’s popularity has slumped since he backed tough austerity measures demanded by Romania’s international lenders and also because he backed corrupted members of PDL.
According to the latest polls, about 65% of the electorate wants to remove Traian Basescu. However, analysts say the government will struggle to achieve the required turnout.
Traian Basescu had initially urged Romanians to come to referendum and vote “no” to what he called “a coup”, but later asked his supporters to boycott the vote altogether, a stance also adopted by the new opposition (PDL). However, Traian Basescu will vote today even he urged people to boycott the referendum.
If he is impeached, a presidential election must be held within three months.
Earlier this month, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy voiced “deep concerns” about the political crisis in Romania “with regard to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary”.
Romania and neighboring Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, but Brussels has put both countries under special monitoring because of concerns about judicial independence, corruption and political influence in state institutions.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has had telephone contact with Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias, amid continuing speculation that his country may have to leave the eurozone.
Greek officials said Chancellor Angela Merkel had suggested Greece could hold a referendum on the euro when it votes in national elections next month.
However, their German counterparts denied she had made such a proposal.
The crisis in the eurozone is expected to dominate G8 talks in the US this weekend.
The reports of the German-Greek contacts came as US and French leaders ended talks in Washington focusing on the economy.
In a telephone call with President Karolos Papoulias, Angela Merkel “conveyed thoughts about a vote parallel to the election with the question to what extent do the Greek citizens wish to remain within the eurozone,” said a statement from the office of Greece’s interim prime minister.
Greek officials said Chancellor Angela Merkel had suggested Greece could hold a referendum on the euro when it votes in national elections next month
“However, it is clear that the matter is beyond the competence of the caretaker government,” the statement went on.
But a spokeswoman in Berlin said: “The information reported that the chancellor had suggested a referendum to the Greek President Karolos Papoulias is wrong.”
The caretaker government was sworn in this week after elections failed to produce a viable coalition to run the country.
New elections have been scheduled for 17 June.
The vote could result in a government that would refuse to implement the austerity measures that Greece’s last remaining international creditors are insisting on.
Speculation is increasing that Greece may have to leave the eurozone.
Meeting in Washington just before news broke of the German proposal, the US and French leaders said Greece should stay.
“We have the same conviction that Greece must remain in the eurozone,” France’s new President, Francois Hollande, said.
President Barack Obama said the situation in the eurozone was of great importance to the people of Europe and the whole world.
He said he looked forward to “fruitful” discussions with other G8 leaders, with a strong focus on economic growth.
Francois Hollande, who was elected president on 6 May, is also to have talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.
David Cameron said that Greece must decide if it wants to remain in the euro.
“We need decisive action from eurozone countries in terms of strengthening eurozone banks, in terms of a strong eurozone firewall and decisive action over Greece. That has to be done.
“Clearly the Greeks have to make their minds up, they have to make their decision.”
Earlier, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said he European Central Bank and the European Commission are working on emergency scenarios in case Greece had to leave the single currency.
Several hours later, fellow commissioner Olli Rehn issued a statement saying that he is responsible for financial and economic affairs and relations with the ECB.
“We are not working on the scenario of a Greek exit,” he said.