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Moldova parties favoring closer to EU

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Moldova, Dec 01 (AP) - Partial results from Sunday's elections in Moldova show parties that want to move closer to Europe leading those that want to move back into Moscow's sphere of influence. The parliamentary election has taken on wider significance with the unrest in neighboring Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, has a pro-Russia separatist region in its east. Early results showed pro-Russia parties with a strong lead. But as more votes were counted, the gap closed and the lead changed. With 85 percent of the vote counted, the pro-Europe parties were ahead with about 44.4 percent, with 39.5 percent for the two pro-Russia parties. Parties need to get at least 6 percent to gain seats in the 101-member Parliament. The surprise leader was the strongly pro-Russia Socialists' Party, which was in first place with 21.6 percent, according to partial results. The impoverished former Soviet republic of less than 4 million people is torn between re-electing the current pro-European coalition and choosing parties that want closer economic ties with Moscow. Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said he voted for a "European Moldova - for a Moldova with justice." "Everything ... indicates that Moldova cannot exist without Europe," he said. Russia placed an embargo on Moldovan fruit after the country signed a trade association agreement with the European Union in June. At least 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, half of them in the EU and the rest in Russia. Remittances make up about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product. In Moscow, around 4,000 people lined up to vote including Renato Usatii, a businessman whose pro-Russia party was banned from competing on the grounds it received foreign funding, which is illegal. There were also lines in Rome, and thousands voted in Romania, where many Moldovan students are enrolled at universities. Four-fifths of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, but decades of Soviet rule have left a strong imprint. The Liberal Party campaigned under the slogan "NO to the Russian boot, YES to the Romanian heart!" while pro-Russia parties likely received support from people angry with allegations of high-level corruption. The leader of the pro-Russia Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, said he was voting for Moldova to get rid of corruption and "the Mafia," which he claims prevents the country from developing. Tatiana Frolova, a 62-year-old retiree, said she supported the pro-Russia parties. "We want to be close to Russia because Russia will give us a good life, and we get cheap gas and can export our goods there," she said. Those supporting the governing coalition had other visions. "We expect a better country after these elections. A beautiful future. A European future for our children, for our grandchildren and for all our country," said 56-year-old Petru Croitoru. The final turnout was 55.86 percent of the total electorate, authorities said.