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Early results show Irish back EU fiscal pact

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Early results indicatae that Irish voters have opted to ratify the European Union's deficit-fighting fiscal treaty, with "yes" votes in a referendum reaching nearly 60 per cent, according to election officials citing unofficial results.

The treaty's opponents also appear to have conceded defeat in the referendum, as results continued to come in on Friday.

"The 'yes' side is going to win. The question now is where will the jobs and the stability they have promised come from, against the backdrop of a continuing and deepening capitalist crisis within Europe? Their policies will only make the situation worse,'' said Joe Higgins, leader of Ireland's Socialist Party, which opposed the treaty.

Full, but unofficial, tallies from almost all of Ireland's 43 constituencies suggested that Prime Minister Enda Kenny's government had scored a decisive victory. The government had courted unpopularity by insisting that Ireland - already four years into a brutal austerity programme - needed to vote in support of more cuts and tax hikes.

Kenny and Deputy Prime Minister Eamon Gilmore, his coalition partner in Ireland's 15-month-old coalition government, planned a joint victory statement on the steps of their office.

The official result is expected to be announced by Friday afternoon.

Voter turnout

Ireland is the only country holding a national referendum on the fiscal pact, which all 27 EU members have signed except Britain and the Czech Republic.

Rejecting the pact, a German-backed measure that would penalise countries if they fail to keep their deficits in check, would have given momentum to a growing European backlash against austerity measures.

Pre-referendum opinion polls had suggested a clear majority of voters would back the treaty.

The "yes" campaign's main message, that a victory for the "no" camp would exclude Ireland from emergency EU funds when its current bailout package expires in 2013, struck a chord with many voters.

But Ireland's main broadcaster RTE estimated that only half of the 3.1 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the poll.

Al Jazeera's Simmons reported that there was also the suggestion of a class divide in voting, with many lower income districts in cities voting "no", and middle class areas voting "yes".

International bailout

Although a "no" result could have had severe consequences for Ireland, it would not jeopardise the treaty, as it needs to be ratified by just 12 countries to come into force.

Denmark ratified the pact on Thursday, becoming the fifth country to do so after Romania, Portugal, Greece and Slovenia.

Eighteen months ago, Ireland was forced to accept a $106bn bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund after its economy came close to collapse.

The government has warned that it may need fresh funds from the European Stability Mechanism, the new permanent bailout fund to which the fiscal pact grants guaranteed access, and says a "no" vote could hit Ireland's credit rating, making it harder to borrow.

Critics of the pact have labeled it an "austerity treaty" as it ultimately empowers the EU to fine countries that overspend, and have sought to harness public anger against the spending cuts and tax rises attached to the bailout.

But it could fuel a growing campaign led by France's new President Francois Hollande for Europe to focus on growth rather than belt-tightening.

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