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Europe

European Debut for Latvia and Malta

Saturday marks the third round of elections for the European parliament. After voting on Thursday and Friday, several more countries follow this weekend. For Latvia and Malta, it is the first step in EU integration.

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25 nations cast their votes in European parliamentary elections.

After two days of voting across Europe, the third round of polling for the European Parliament continued on Saturday in Italy, Latvia and Malta. Coming just one and a half months after the bloc expanded to 25 members, the elections are the first time the two newcomers will be sending representatives to Strasbourg.

In the smallest EU-member state, Malta, some 300,000 citizens have been called upon to fulfill their European duty and elect their representatives to the European Parliament. The island nation is expected to produce the highest turnout in the entire bloc with more than 80 percent of the population casting a ballot. The race is generating a good deal of attention in the Mediterranean country, with 27 candidates competing for five seats in the EU's 732-seat legislative body.

In Latvia about 1.3 million people are eligible for voting. It is expected to be a tough race as 245 candidates aim for one of the Baltic state's nine seats in the EU parliament. Among those running are several members of the national Latvian parliament as well as a few ministers. Opinion polls have predicted a good outcome for the opposition party candidates, including the controversial communist Tatjana Zdanoka.

Italy: Prodi versus Berlusconi

In Italy, one of the original EU members, the election has far less of a milestone character. As in the rest of western Europe, voter turnout is expected to be low. But in order to give everyone a chance to vote, polls will remain open for two days. That time may be necessary for voters to examine the lengthy ballot with candidates from 68 different lists vying for 87 seats.

Despite the sheer number of potential candidates, the election has been basically whittled down to a duel between EU Commission President Romano Prodi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Although Prodi is not on the ballot himself, he has lent his name to the Unity Party, the largest opposition party to Berlusconi's ruling Forza Italia. Recent surveys show "Lista Prodi" ahead of the expected negative results for the prime minister's party.

Four days of voting

Great Britain, the Netherlands, Ireland and the Czech Republic have already cast their ballots on Thursday and Friday. Germany and the other 20 member states vote on Saturday or Sunday. Only after polls in all the member states close late on Sunday evening will the first results be released. The Netherlands, which voted on Thursday, violated the Brussels directive by publishing the results ahead of time.

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