Moldova's pro-European parties have begun talks on forming a coalition as near-complete results showed them in a strong position despite a drop in support.

With 90.6 percent of the vote counted on Monday, the pro-Europe parties were ahead with about 44.6 percent, with 39.3 percent for the two pro-Russia parties. Parties need to get at least six percent to gain seats in the 101-member Parliament.

The remaining votes to be counted were from absentees, and were expected to break more or less evenly between pro-Russians and pro-Europeans.

Although the pro-European parties could remain in government they do not have enough seats to elect a president, which could lead to political fighting and possibly slow the pace of reforms.

Moldova's parliamentary election on Sunday, which saw a voter turnout of 55.86 percent according to authorities, has taken on wider significance with the unrest in neighbouring Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, has a pro-Russia separatist region in its east.

The impoverished former Soviet republic of less than four million people is torn between re-electing the current pro-European coalition and choosing parties that want closer economic ties with Moscow.

Moldova: Under the influence

Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said he voted for a "European Moldova - for a Moldova with justice".

"Everything ... indicates that Moldova cannot exist without Europe,'' he said.

Russia placed an embargo on Moldovan fruit after the country signed a free trade association agreement with the European Union in June.

At least 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, half of them in the European Union and the rest in Russia. Remittances make up about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product.

In Moscow, around 4,000 people lined up to vote including Renato Usatii, a businessman whose pro-Russia party was banned from competing on the grounds it received foreign funding, which is illegal. There were also lines in Rome, and thousands voted in Romania, where many Moldovan students are enrolled at universities.

The leader of the pro-Russia Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, said he was voting for Moldova to get rid of corruption and "the Mafia,'' which he claims prevents the country from developing.

Tatiana Frolova, a 62-year-old retiree, said she supported the pro-Russia parties.

"We want to be close to Russia because Russia will give us a good life, and we get cheap gas and can export our goods there,'' she said.

Those supporting the governing coalition had other visions.

"We expect a better country after these elections. A beautiful future. A European future for our children, for our grandchildren and for all our country,'' said 56-year-old Petru Croitoru.

Source: AP