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Australian election on knife edge

Voting in Australia's knife-edge general election starts on Friday - with the British monarchy's ties to the country potentially at stake.

Both UK-born leadership front runners are at odds over the issue of republicanism, and this year's contest is said to be the closest in decades.

Most analysts expect the nation's current prime minister Julia Gillard, who this week called for the country to cut royal links after the Queen's reign ends, will hang on to power.

The Welsh-born politician's election rival Tony Abbott said he sees no need to change the status quo.

This campaign is the first time the issue of republicanism has been prominent since the 1990s.

Voting booths in eastern Australia open just before midnight UK time, closing in western Australia on Saturday.

Ms Gillard's centre-left Labour Party has long argued that the country should become a republic. And the 48-year-old, who emigrated to Australia from south Wales with her parents John and Moira when she was five, said the Queen's death would be a fitting point to abandon a British monarch.

She told reporters: "What I would like to see as prime minister is that we work our way through to an agreement on a model for the republic. I think the appropriate time for this nation to move to be a republic is when we see the monarch change.

"Obviously I'm hoping for Queen Elizabeth that she lives a long and happy life, and having watched her mother I think there's every chance that she will."

Meanwhile Liberal leader Mr Abbott, who was born in London, said: "I think that our existing constitutional arrangements have worked well in the past and I see no reason whatsoever why they can't continue to work well in the future. So while there may very well be future episodes of republicanism in this country, I am far from certain at least in our lifetimes that there is likely to be any significant change."

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