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British, Dutch parties urge voters to the polls in European elections

British political parties have taken to social media, trying to drum up support in European parliamentary polls. With low turnout anticipated, one message transcended party lines: it's not too late to vote.

Voting for European Parliament begins

Voters in Britain and the Netherlands on Thursday became the first to cast ballots in the European parliamentary elections, with polls suggesting the populist right-wing parties would fare well in both countries. The euroskeptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), led by Nigel Farage, was expected to poll strongly, as was Geert Wilders' Dutch Party for Freedom.

Wilders, who cast his vote early on Thursday at a school on the outskirts of The Hague, said "a vote for my party is a vote for national sovereignty, for less immigration, for less Brussels."

Wilders, like Farage in the UK, is seeking strong representation at the European Parliament - with probable low turnout providing both populist parties with better chances than in national elections where more mainstream voters tend to mobilize.

Continent-wide turnout for the last European elections in 2009 was just 43 percent, with the UK well below average at just under 35 percent, and the Netherlands at around 37 percent.

'Not too late to vote'

Prime Minister David Cameron therefore sought on Twitter to draw attention to the fact that polls would not close in the UK until 10 p.m. local time (2100 UTC).

Initial projections are expected soon after the polls close.

Cameron's Conservatives are forecast to remain the strongest single British party at the European Parliament. The prime minister's calls for "real reform" in Europe and a referendum on UK memebership in the EU - providing he can win re-election in 2015 - have been widely labeled a response to UKIP's rise in popularity threatening the Conservatives' position. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, also a center-right politician, has similarly advocated some EU reform, without questioning the Netherlands' membership in the 28-country bloc.

UKIP, meanwhile, reverted to one of its core messages - opposition to Europe's statutes guaranteeing freedom of movement for many EU citizens - on election morning.

Britain's main opposition Labour Party, lagging behind UKIP in the polls, issued multiple appeals for voters not just to turn up - but to remind friends, family, and even strangers. They too issued several mentions of the late opening hours during the workday vote.

A total of 400 million Europeans in 28 countries are eligible to elect European parliamentarians, with the voting running until Sunday. Most countries, including Germany, go to the polls on Sunday, May 25. Ireland and the Czech Republic vote on Friday; Latvia, Malta and Slovakia open polling stations on Saturday.

msh/hc (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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