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Elections

Croatia elects European parliamentarians for first time

Croatians have gone to the polls to elect their first ever batch of politicians for the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Croatia will join the EU on July 1 this year, becoming the bloc's 28th member.

Some 3.7 million Croatians were invited to elect a set of Members of European Parliament (MEPs) on Sunday, though a considerably smaller number of them looked set to do so. Partial turnout figures midway through the vote from the State Electoral Commission said that around 15 percent of eligible voters had so far cast ballots.

Polls closed at 1900 local time (1700 UCT), with partial results expected later on Sunday.

The vote is part of the preparations for Croatia joining the European Union on July 1. It will become only the second of six former Yugoslav republics to join the bloc; Slovenia gained entry in 2004.

The European Commission confirmed on March 27 that the country was ready to conclude the lengthy accession process, with EU Expansion Commissioner Stefan Füle saying that the government in Zagreb had "shown the will and ability to fulfill all outstanding commitments in good time before accession."

Just over 66 percent of Croatian participants voted in favor of joining the EU at a referendum in January 2012, with turnout for that ballot at 43.5 percent. Opinion polls suggest that the public mood towards the bloc has soured in the interim, however.

The country of 4.2 million people has been in recession since 2009, logging a 2-percent contraction of GDP last year with unemployment at 22 percent.

Croatia has been allocated 12 seats in the 754-member European Parliament in Strasbourg, with opinon polls before Sunday's vote suggesting that around half of them were likely to go to the ruling Social Democrats.

msh/kms (AFP, AP)