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European voters vent their anger


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Only 44.6 percent of the eligible voters cast a ballot -- a record low.
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Mixing apathy with protest, voters across Europe have punished ruling parties in the first European Union parliamentary elections since expansion.

Though the European Parliament elections achieved a turnout of less than 45 percent of the 350 million voters, it was still enough to hand opposition parties victory after victory.

With no overarching European issues, voters in many of the 25 EU countries used the election to register dissatisfaction against ruling parties over domestic issues.

Among the countries where opposition parties made gains were France, Germany, Italy, Britain, Poland, Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Also making gains were so-called "Euroskeptic" parties, particularly in Britain, where the United Kingdom Independence Party -- which advocates Britain leaving the EU -- was set to come in third place.

Anti-EU parties were also projected to do well in Sweden, and two of the new members states -- Poland and the Czech Republic.

Across the board, the bloc of center-right parties will hold the most seats in the next parliament, the EU projected.

They were projected to win between 247 and 277 seats in the 732-member parliament. The center left group -- which includes lawmakers from the UK's Labour Party and German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrats -- would finish second with an expected 189 to 209 seats.

The war in Iraq, which divided European governments into two camps, appears to have had a mixed impact on the results.

Ruling parties in some countries that supported the war, including Britain and Italy, saw their support fall, and the Socialists in Spain, who won March's general election on an anti-war platform, won the most votes there.

But both French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Schroeder -- steadfast opponents of the war -- suffered at the polls.

Schroeder's Social Democrats were beaten 2-to-1 by the conservative opposition, while Chirac's party trailed far behind the opposition Socialists.

This election for the European Parliament was the first since the EU expanded from 15 to 25 countries in May.

With 350 million voters choosing 732 seats, the event was being hailed as the largest democratic exercise in the world outside of India.

However, only 44.6 percent of the eligible voters cast a ballot. And the turnout was even worse in the 10 new EU countries, where just 28 percent of the voters turned out.

The results of the European balloting were being keenly watched in Britain, where Blair's Labor Party slumped to a humiliating third place in local elections last week, prompting fresh speculation in the media about his political future.

However, the rise of the UK Independence Party appeared to be dividing the anti-Blair vote by drawing votes away from the Conservatives, who have been suffered internal divisions in recent years over their position on Britain's role in the EU.

Projections from the EU had the Conservatives winning 23 seats, to 19 for Labor and 15 for the UKIP.

CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley contributed to this report.


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