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EU: Poles Vote To Join Union

Warsaw, 9 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Initial results suggest Poles have voted to join the European Union. In a weekend referendum, more than 50 percent of eligible voters cast ballots to support their country's entry into the EU. With 75 percent of Poland's polling stations reporting, 76 percent of Poles cast ballots supporting EU membership. President Aleksander Kwasniewski was the first to hail the result, saying Poland is coming back to Europe. Into the night Poles filled public squares from the Baltic port of Gdansk to the southern town of Skoczow to celebrate with concerts and fireworks.

There had been fears that the referendum might not be valid following Saturday's (7 June) voter turnout of only 18 percent. Half the electorate needed to take part for the referendum to be valid. However, turnout surged to nearly 60 percent by yesterday.

In remarks welcoming the result, European Commission President Romano Prodi said, "Polish citizens were fully aware of the historic choice to be made."

Poland is the largest of 10 mostly Eastern European countries invited to join the EU. Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Slovakia have already voted for EU membership. The Czech Republic holds its referendum this weekend (13-14 June).