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Polls open in early Portuguese general election

Voting began in an early general election in Portugal on Sunday that will choose a new government to implement the country’s demanding 78 billion euro bailout programme.

Some 9.6 million Portuguese are eligible to vote in the polls, called after Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned in late March when lawmakers led by the centre-right opposition Social Democrats (PSD) rejected his minority Socialist government’s latest package of austerity measures.

Final polls published Friday gave the PSD around 36 percent of the vote against 31 percent for the Socialists, who have been in power since 2005.

If confirmed the PSD would fall short of an absolute majority in the 230-seat parliament but they could govern in coalition with the third-place conservative CDS-PP party as they have several times in the past.

Two weeks after Socrates resigned, Portugal became the third eurozone nation after Greece and Ireland last year to request an international bailout because of its inability to meet its refinancing obligations.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0700 GMT) and were to close at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT), with the first official results expected some two hours later.