Moldovans have been voting in parliamentary elections widely seen as a referendum on whether to align with Europe or pursue closer ties with Russia. The vote comes amid heightened East-West tensions over Ukraine.
Polling took place on Sunday in the ex-Soviet state of Moldova in a parliamentary election that may well determine the country's future foreign policy course.
Moldova's current coalition government under Prime Minister Iurie Leanca, which in June signed a trade and association agreement with the European Union, wants the impoverished country of 3.5 million to join the bloc.
But the opposition Communist party and Party of Socialists would like to move the country closer to Russia's orbit, with the Socialists even calling for the EU agreement to be torn up and for Moldova to join a Russia-led customs union.
Opinion polls showed both sides running neck-and-neck in the run-up to the elections.
Russia, which supports the breakaway territory of Transnistria on Moldova's eastern border, imposed an embargo on many Moldovan food imports in retaliation for the signing of the accord with the EU.
Authorities in the Transnistria have banned its roughly 550,000 residents from voting in the elections, though several thousand are expected to do so in regions still controlled by the central government.
In another move that angered Moscow, in the week before the poll the pro-Russian party Patria was barred from the elections over alleged illegal financing from abroad.
The decision prompted Russia's foreign ministry to express concern at whether the Moldovan vote was fully democratic, going so far as to warn of an "exceptionally dirty" poll.
The leader of the party, Russian businessman Renato Usatii, fled to Russia. Observers fear that the ban could lead to protests after the vote.
Sunday's vote takes place against the backdrop of the crisis in neighboring Ukraine, which has seen relations between the West and Moscow hit their lowest point since the Cold War.
For the vote to be valid, a third of eligible voters must cast a ballot. They will be chosing lawmakers to serve a four-year term in the 101-seat parliament.
No party is expected to gain an outright majority, and only those that receive at least six percent of the vote will be represented in the legislative body.
Polling stations were to close at 9.00 pm (1900 UTC).
tj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)