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Voters in the oil-rich Tatarstan Autonomous Republic in central Russia have approved by a wide majority a referendum calling for more independence from Moscow.

Alexander Lozovoi, deputy chairman of the Tatarstan Parliament, said Sunday the results of the poll did not mean the republic wanted to secede from Russia but would put local officials in a better position to negotiate with Moscow.Preliminary results showed 61.4 percent of those who voted cast "yes" ballots Saturday on the question: "Do you agree that the republic of Tatarstan is a sovereign state, a subject of international law, constructing its relations with the Russian Federation and other republics and states on the basis of equal treaties?"

Russian President Boris Yeltsin had appealed to Tatarstan to cancel the referendum, and then asked for a "no" vote.