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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 June, 2003, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Poles await referendum results
Polish boy casts his father's vote in the referendum
Poland is staking its future this weekend
Voting has ended in Poland's referendum on joining the European Union, after the first day was marked by low turnout.

Only 17.61% of registered voters cast ballots on Saturday - well short of the 50% total needed to validate the vote.

And politicians were waiting with bated breath to see whether enough people turned out on the second day.

Opinion polls have suggested most Poles support EU membership - but if the referendum is invalid, the issue will have to be decided in parliament.

Weighing in

In the run-up to the referendum Pope John Paul II - who is Polish - urged citizens to vote yes.

Pie-chart showing latest opinion polls
"Europe needs Poland. Poland needs Europe," he told Polish pilgrims gathered at the Vatican.

In Warsaw the authorities have been offering free museum tickets to dissuade people from leaving the city during the weekend.

Despite a ban on campaigning during the voting, the pro-EU daily Gazeta Wyborcza ran an extra Sunday edition urging people to vote.

And Poland's 10 million mobile phone users received messages reminding them how long they had left to vote.

Voting appeared to pick up after the Pope urged people to support the EU entry.

"The only way to join the Union is with God. After the Pope spoke, I think we have to vote 'Yes', but who knows what others think?," Krystyna Zelech said after going to mass in the southern village of Alwernia.

Lech Walesa, the country's first post-communist president, said he had voted 'Yes'.

"I have always believed up to now in democracy, in peaceful and evolving methods. This is the last stage of this road, on which we topple the last obstacles to our development," Polish news agency PAP quoted him as saying.

Prosperous city dwellers are among those keenest on EU membership, while poor farmers, market traders and the unemployed are most likely to be against it.

Stakes high

Fewer than half of the voters took part in two previous referendums held in the 14 years since the end of communist government in Poland.

And in Hungary's referendum on EU membership on 12 April turnout reached only 45.6%.

29 million voters
25,000 polling stations
Voters must be aged 18 or over
50% turnout threshold
Polls show more than two-thirds favour of membership

If the referendum is declared invalid and the issue referred to parliament, a two-thirds majority will be required in both houses. This could be difficult to achieve in the lower house.

The BBC's Central and Eastern Europe analyst, Jan Repa, says this would involve some complicated inter-party trade-offs, including probably the resignation of Prime Minister Miller.

The failure of the referendum would also rock financial markets.

The Polish stock market, which has rallied by 10% since April, is anyway expected to inch down on Monday as investors engage in profit-taking.

An exit poll is expected to be released on public television as soon as voting stations close. Initial results will be published on Sunday night.

The final result is expected at 2000 (1800 GMT) on Monday.

The BBC's Claire Marshall
"If there is less than 50% turnout, the vote will have to go to parliament"

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