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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 April, 2003, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Malta votes for pro-EU party
Jubilant voters
Voters celebrate a result that will see them join the EU
The ruling Nationalist Party in Malta has claimed victory in a general election, a result that will confirm the island's desire to join the European Union.

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami's Nationalists are expected to win between 51 and 52% of the vote in the election, whose central issue was whether Malta should join the EU.

Opposition Labour Party leader Alfred Sant conceded defeat on state television, saying he respected the electorate's decision.

The result, which came on Sunday, endorses a non-binding referendum held last month that saw 54% of voters support a call to join the EU.

Jubilant rally

Under Malta's constitution, the referendum had to be confirmed by a general election.

Mr Fenech Adami is now expected to travel to Athens next Wednesday to sign Malta's EU accession treaty.

Cheering supporters waving blue EU flags and white and red Maltese flags converged on the capital Valletta and the nearby town of Sliema even as votes from the poll were still being counted.
Jubilant voters
Fenech Adami is a staunch EU supporter

The prime minister told a jubilant rally outside his party's headquarters: "This is the second confirmation in a very short time of the country's desire to join the European Union."

He added that the result "brings honour to the country. Now the other 24 EU and accession states will look on us with confidence as a stable country."

Political observers had said the outcome was too close to call, and thousands of people had been glued to their television screens, leaving the streets noticeably empty early on Sunday.

But people went back onto the streets in the tiny Mediterranean state when the result became known.

"We've won, we've won, we're in Europe now," said Lara Attard, a 20-year-old student as she danced on an open truck.

The poll took place just four days before the Mediterranean island and nine other countries are due to sign the EU accession treaty.

Mr Fenech Adami had argued that membership is vital for the island's economy and international credibility.

Patient vote

Opposition leader Mr Sant had said Malta would not sign the treaty if his Labour Party won the election.
This is the second confirmation in a very short time of the country's desire to join the European Union
Maltese Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami

Another accession country, Hungary, voted on Saturday by a large margin to back EU membership, although turnout was low.

The level of interest in the Maltese vote was such that plane loads of Maltese expatriates returned to vote, benefiting from reduced fares by state-owned Air Malta.

Hospitals also allowed patients to go out to vote, and political parties engaged volunteers to ferry the old and infirm to the polling stations - some on stretchers, wheelchairs or crutches.

The EU referendum on 8 March made Malta the first among 10 countries invited to join the EU next year to vote on the move.


SEE ALSO:
Maltese back EU entry
09 Mar 03  |  Europe
Hurdles on road to EU expansion
14 Dec 02  |  Europe
EU enters new era
14 Dec 02  |  Europe
Country profile: Malta
15 Dec 02  |  Country profiles


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