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Icelanders to take to the streets over withdrawal of EU bid

Despite a promise to hold a public referendum, the Icelandic government announced that it is dropping its EU membership bid without one. The European Commission appeared undisturbed by the news.

A rally is planned for Sunday in Reykjavik to protest

the government's decision to no longer pursue membership in the European Union

, echoing similar events from last February when the government tried to drop its application without considering public opinion.

As of Friday afternoon, around 2,400 people had signed up on the event's Facebook page to participate in the march, with many angry that the government never made good on its promise to hold a referendum on the issue.

"Government goes blatantly against the will of the nation in this case," said the Facebook page.

A formal letter informing Brussels of the government's decision was delivered to Latvia's foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, during talks with his Icelandic counterpart on Thursday.

"The government considers that Iceland is no longer a candidate country and requests the EU to act in accordance with this from now on," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The move spurred several hundred people to gather outside parliament in protest.

EU Commission shrugs it off

Iceland began its bid for EU membership in 2009, a year after three banks collapsed and the nation stood on the verge of bankruptcy. The crisis boosted support for an EU bid in a nation that has traditionally isolated itself from mainland Europe and often clashed with the 28-nation bloc over fishing quotas that impact one of the main forces of its economy.

Since a more euroskeptic center-right government came to power in 2013, however, popular and political support for EU membership has declined as the economy gradually recovers.

The European Commission said Iceland remained an important partner, through membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) and as a signatory of the Schengen Agreement allowing passport-free travel.

"They, when things went tough for them, wanted to join. Now they want to take a break. That's fine. That's their sovereign decision. Our door is open. We continue to be in business," said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.

"There are many people, many countries, many nations who aspire not only to join the European Union, but aspire to the values and the rights that people enjoy within the European Union," Schinas added.

es/msh (dpa, Reuters)

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