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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lithuanians Go to Polls in EU Vote

APA woman voting at a polling station in Vilnius on Saturday. Election officials said turnout passed the needed 50 percent Sunday.
VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuanians rejoiced Sunday after their country seemed set to become the first former Soviet republic to vote itself into the European Union as the country's two-day referendum received enough votes to become valid.

Lithuania's staunchly pro-EU leaders predicted the referendum was sure to pass and called it a turning point in the history of the country, bounced for so many centuries between one regional power and another.

Election officials said about 52 percent of the nation's 2.7 million registered voters had cast ballots -- exceeding the required 50 percent minimum.

They originally said turnout was nearly 60 percent, but lowered it after mistakenly adding the 7 percent who voted in advance of the referendum.

Complete results of the referendum are expected late Sunday night at the earliest, although pre-referendum opinion polls showed overwhelming support for joining the EU.

"We should all be waving EU flags today," said Vytenis Andriukaitis, parliament's deputy speaker. "This day is as important as the day Lithuania declared independence."

After a lower-than-expected turnout of 30 percent Saturday, Lithuania's leaders urged residents to go to the polls on the referendum's final day.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas canceled a planned visit to Estonia, choosing instead to stay in Vilnius and urge people to vote.

"This is not an ordinary election where people are voting for a new parliament or government," he said in a nationwide broadcast late Saturday. "This is something that only happens once in the history of a nation. We lose this opportunity and we might regret it later."

President Rolandas Paksas made similar appeals in public, as did parliamentary Speaker Arturas Paulauskas, who acknowledged he was feeling "a bit anxious" about turnout.

If the referendum failed because of a lack of voters, the government could hold another one later this year.

Lithuania is the first of the three Baltic states to hold an EU referendum, with Latvia and Estonia following in September.