Arab League chief Amr Moussa hailed a huge turnout for a landmark referendum in Egypt on Saturday as voters seized their first taste of democracy after the ouster of veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
Queues had formed outside voting centers even before polls opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT), something unheard of in the Mubarak-era when turnout for elections was always tiny as voters assumed their ballots would make no difference.
"I am happy because it is very important that people are coming," said Moussa, as he joined hundreds of voters waiting to cast their ballots within the first hour of polling at the Kasr El-Dobara school in a posh part of Cairo.
"As I drove here, I saw lots of people heading to vote at a lot of schools," said Moussa, an Egyptian who is one of the declared candidates to stand in new presidential elections.
"Whether the Egyptian people say yes or no, that's all right," said Moussa, a staunch opponent of the transitional military government’s plans to make only limited changes to the Mubarak-era constitution before holding new elections.
"What is important is that people are coming. We need a new Egypt."
Moussa was given a hero's welcome by the queue of voters as he went in to cast his ballot, shaking their hands as they passed.
The Arab League secretary general was rushing off to Paris straight afterwards for a key meeting of Arab, African and European governments on military action in Libya, which was to be joined by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
Agence France Presse correspondents saw similarly large turnouts at other Cairo polling stations. At a school in Zamalek, another upscale neighborhood, hundreds were queuing out into the street.
The estimated 45 million eligible voters are being asked to say "yes" or "no" to a package of constitutional amendments drawn up by a panel of civilian experts appointed by the military that are intended to pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections within six months.
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