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Moldova poll edges towards Europe

A staunchly pro-Russian party has grabbed the lead in Moldova's parliamentary election but pro-European parties will be able to form a coalition, partial results suggest.

Sunday's parliamentary election has taken on wider significance with the unrest in neighbouring Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, has a pro-Russia separatist region in its east.

With 89.5% of the vote counted, the three pro-Europe parties were ahead with about 44.6%, with 40.3% for the two pro-Russia parties. Parties need to get at least 6% to gain seats in the 101-member Parliament.

The remaining votes to be counted were from absentees, and were expected to break more or less evenly between pro-Russians and pro-Europeans.

Although the pro-European parties could remain in government, support for them has eroded - from nearly 52% in 2010 - and they do not have enough seats to elect a president which could lead to political fighting and possibly slow the pace of reforms.

Ion Tabarta, an analyst from the Politikon Institute of Political Studies, said the partial results suggested that pro-European reforms "will probably continue".

The most important conclusion of Sunday's election was "that Moldova continues its pro-European path," said Marian Lupu, leader of the Democratic Party, whose party was in fourth place.

The surprise leader was the strongly pro-Russia Socialists' Party with a 21.4% share.

Analysts say the Socialists scored much better than predicted because a day before the elections, the country's top court banned another pro-Russian party, Patria, from competing on the grounds it illegally received foreign funding. Its supporters likely switched to the Socialists.

The Liberal Democrat Party, which wants to join the European Union, was in second place with nearly 19.5% of the vote. "Moldova must remain an independent state and not a vassal state," party leader Vlad Filat said, alluding to Russia.

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