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Europe

Nationalists Show Lead in Bosnia Vote

Early results show Serb, Croat and Muslim nationalists leading in Bosnian election. If the final tally supports the early numbers, observers worry ethnic tensions could flare anew.

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Two Bosnian Muslim girls pass next to elections posters in downtown Sarajevo.

The early tallies from Saturday's general election in Bosnia Hercegovina are showing gains for Serb, Croat and Muslim nationalists. But observers say it may still be possible for the country's moderates to combine forces and defeat the hardline parties, who drug the country into war between 1992-5, as they did two years ago.

At 55 percent, turnout on Saturday was the lowest since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995. Final results are not expected for some days. The postal votes of some 50,000 Bosnians living abroad have yet to be counted.

Nationalists were hopeful they would gain the upper hand as a result of the low voter turnout. But the internationally appointed high representative for Bosnia Hercegovina, who was put in place as a result of the United States-brokered Dayton peace accord and granted sweeping authority, said any such result should be interpreted as a backlash against painful reforms rather than a victory for the hardliners.

"Do not mistake the inevitable dissatisfaction with the last government for a desire to return to nationalism of ten years ago," Paddy Ashdown said. "Do not mistake a desire to protest for a desire to return to the past."

In Bosnia Hercegovina's complicated electoral system, voting takes place for a three-member presidency delineated by the country's three major ethnicities as well as three different parliaments. Western observers worry that if hardliners are elected into each of those three seats, tensions similar to those that sparked the war, which killed 260,000, could be stirred up again.