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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 September, 2003, 21:48 GMT 22:48 UK
Estonia approves EU entry
Estonian President Arnold Ruutel
Estonians have always felt they belonged to Europe
Estonia is on track to join the European Union after official results from Sunday's referendum in the Baltic state showed two-thirds had backed membership.

Final results from the Central Election Commission said indicated 66.9% support, with opponents trailing with 33.1%

The turnout was put at 63% of the 850,000 voters, the commission said

"Spring has arrived in Estonia - we're back in Europe," Prime Minister Juhan Parts told a news conference.

Victory is the result governments here have been working for since independence, says the BBC's Sarah Rainsford.

It formalises what Estonians say they have always known - that their Baltic state is an integral part of Europe, our correspondent says.

Pros and cons

Estonia was one of eight east European countries invited to join the EU next May as the grouping enlarges from 15 members to 25.

Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic have voted "yes" in referendums and Latvia votes next week.

EU supporters in Estonia have argued that membership will bring economic benefits and safeguard the independence the nation gained in 1991.

Opponents feared the nation's economy would get bogged down in EU red tape and that taxes would be raised.

Estonia was originally billed as eurosceptic - apart from economic doubts there were concerns too about sacrificing sovereignty after just 12 years of independence, our correspondent says.

But in the end tiny Estonia fears isolation even more and few here were keen to be left out of expansion, stranded alone between the new EU and Russia, she says.

The campaign suggested support for a "yes" vote among the young and more affluent, offering greater opportunities to travel and work abroad.

But one 65-year-old voter, Igor Veiko, told the Associated Press agency that the EU would cause inflation.

"If Estonia joins, I may as well move to Russia. At least things will be cheaper there," he said.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford reports from Tallinn
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