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Early Returns Indicate Irish Voters Approve EU Expansion - 2002-10-20

Initial results of a referendum in Ireland indicate strong voter support for a treaty that would allow 10 new countries to join the European Union. Irish support is critical to win approval of the Nice Treaty on EU expansion.

Results from six constituencies around Dublin, released late Saturday, showed support for the Nice Treaty ranged from 56 to 73 percent.

If the results hold up nationwide, it will mean that Irish voters have reversed last year's rejection of the treaty. At that time, the "no" camp got 54 percent of the vote, but only about one-third of eligible voters cast ballots.

This time, political analysts say the turnout was stronger.

The Nice Treaty sets the rules for European Union expansion. It has already been approved by all 15 EU nations except Ireland. If the Irish referendum passes, it will clear the way for 10 new countries to join the EU, most of them from former Communist bloc.

Final Irish results are expected late Sunday.