Moroccans voted on Friday on whether to adopt a new Constitution that the King has championed as an answer to demands for greater freedoms — but that protesters say will still leave the monarch firmly in control.

The referendum on the Constitution is near certain to result in a resounding “yes” vote, like all past referendums in this North African country and generally throughout the Arab world.

Moroccans started heading to the country's nearly 40,000 polling stations at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT). Preliminary results are expected after polls close on Friday night.

A popular tourist destination, this generally stable, Muslim kingdom is a staunch U.S. ally in a strategic swath of northern Africa that has suffered terrorist attacks — and in recent months, popular uprisings against autocratic regimes.

Morocco, like the rest of West Asia, was swept by pro-democracy demonstrations at the beginning of the year, protesting a lack of freedoms, weak economy and political corruption.

King Mohamed VI, however, seems to have managed the popular disaffection by presenting a new Constitution that guarantees the rights of women and minorities, and increases the powers of the Parliament and judiciary, ostensibly at the expense of his own.

Protests have continued nevertheless, and the February 20 prodemocracy movement has called for a boycott.

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