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Prince wins Liechtenstein powers

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VADUZ, Liechtenstein, (Reuters) -- Liechtenstein's Prince Hans Adam II clinched a royal victory on Sunday as subjects rallied behind the 300-year-old monarchy to back controversial political reforms in the alpine state.

Prince Hans Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein had threatened to leave Vaduz for Vienna if voters rejected proposals he put forward that would grant him the right to sack the government, veto legislation and nominate judges.

The 58-year-old prince, a successful banker as well as a ruler, told reporters after the vote that he had ceded more powers than he gained. He also said he would gradually hand over power to his heir, 34-year-old Alois.

"I think this decision has brought an end to a long fight which took over 10 years," he told Reuters. "This has now been solved so we can concentrate on other matters."

Liechtenstein's 17,000 voters backed the prince by a two-to-one margin, with 64.3 percent approving the constitutional changes.

Some 90 percent of the electorate turned out to vote in the tranquil principality, sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria.

Opponents say the prince's proposals would give him too much power in the 160 sq km (62 sq mile) principality, whose tax haven status has enabled it to become one of the world's richest countries in terms of income per capita.

"This has to be the first country in Europe to use a democratic vote to step back into the middle ages," Sebastian Frommelt, a member of the opposition "Verfassungsfrieden" committee, told Reuters as referendum results rolled in.

Cat and pig remains were left on the doorsteps of critics of Hans Adam amid high tensions in the build-up to the referendum.

The prince's opponents said the vote could damage the country's image abroad, particularly in nearby countries.

Hans Adam, who has ruled since 1989, said the proposed changes to Liechtenstein's 1921 referendum would merely legitimize his position as monarch.

"I think it should restore political stability to the country which is important as it is the foundation of economic success of our country," Hans Adam told Reuters.

Opponents submitted counter-proposals that would have given Liechtenstein's people the right to veto the prince's decisions. Only 16.5 percent of the electorate voted for them.

The conservative government backed the prince's proposals, which it said were the result of negotiations and compromise.

Under the proposals his right to rule by emergency decree will be limited to six months and he will lose the right to nominate government officials. The changes will also give his people the right to call a referendum to end the monarchy.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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