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Polls open in Malta

By Agencies

Maltese voters went to the polls on Saturday for the first time since the tiny Mediterranean state joined the European Union in 2004, with the two main parties running neck and neck in opinion surveys.


Voting began at 7:00am (0600 GMT) on Saturday for the 65 parliament seats at stake and was set to end at 10:00pm.


The incumbent conservative Nationalist Party, in power since 1998, faces a tough challenge from its traditional rival the Labour Party.


The island state south of Italy has been ruled by one or the other of the two parties since independence from Britain in 1964.


While the 54-year-old incumbent Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi has run on economic achievements, his less charismatic opponent, Labour Party leader Alfred Sant, 60, has pushed an anti-corruption platform.


In the 2003 vote, the Nationalists won 34 seats for Labour's 31.


Fully half the population of Malta, and nearly all of its 250,000-strong electorate, turned out on Thursday evening for twin rallies capping the five-week election campaign.


The election is too close to call, with the daily Malta Today's latest survey on Thursday showing the Nationalists with an insignificant lead over Labour while nearly 11 per cent remained undecided.


Voters traditionally produce turnouts topping 95 percent even though voting is not mandatory here. (AFP)