Wales votes for more powers in referendum

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Wales has voted resoundingly to boost the powers of its national assembly in a referendum, results revealed Friday, extending further the devolution of power throughout Britain.

Twenty-one of 22 regional areas delivered a "yes" vote in Thursday's referendum, with 63.49 percent voting in favour on an estimated turnout of 35.2 percent, according to the Electoral Commission.

"Today is a truly remarkable moment in our nation's history. Laws which only affect Wales will henceforth be made in Wales," Roger Lewis, leader of the "yes" campaign, told a cheering crowd at the assembly building in Cardiff.

"Today we can stand alongside Northern Ireland and Scotland as full and equal partners in a stronger United Kingdom."

The vote paves the way for the assembly to take on direct law-making powers in 20 subject fields, including health, education, local government, agriculture, the environment and housing.

Previously it had to ask the British government in London if it wanted to legislate in any new areas within these subject fields.

However, the assembly has no power over issues such as defence, tax or welfare benefits, which will continue to be decided in London.

According to the Electoral Commission, 517,132 people voted "yes" and 297,380 voted "no", out of a total of about 2.2 million eligible voters.

Britain began devolving power under Tony Blair's Labour government, holding the first referenda in Wales and Scotland in 1997, and in Northern Ireland in 1998. Devolved assemblies took control in each country or province in 1999.

© 2011 AFP

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