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Josipovic, Bandic to Vie for Croatian Presidency in Run-off

Candidate of the ruling conservative party comes in third

Opposition Social Democratic candidate Ivo Josipovic received the most votes in the first round of Croatia's presidential election and will face independent Milan Bandic in a January 10 runoff.

Official results from Croatia's state electoral commission released early Monday show Josipovic, a law professor and music composer, captured 32.4 percent of the vote. Bandic, the influential mayor of Croatia's capital Zagreb and himself a former Social Democrat, received 14.8 percent.

The candidate of the ruling conservative party (Andrija Hebrang of the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ) came in third with only 12 percent of the vote, reflecting voters' discontent with economic problems and high-level corruption.

Josipovic and Bandic have each pledged to back Croatia's bid to join the European Union, a process which it hopes to complete by 2012.

Diplomats hope the winner of the presidential election will back anti-corruption efforts and enforce economic reforms necessary to finish EU entry talks next year.

Twelve candidates were vying to succeed President Stipe Mesic, who served the maximum two terms.

The outgoing president cast his ballot in Zagreb and told reporters he was "sorry" he had not managed to integrate Croatia into the European Union during his time in office. He said he would support the new president in any way to help the country gain EU membership.

Turnout was low, with only 34 percent of the population having voted up to three hours before polls closed. This is about seven percent lower than at the same time in Croatia's last presidential election.

Nearly 4.5 million Croats were eligible to vote, including about 400,000 living abroad - mostly in neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.