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Exit poll shows opposition conservatives leading

Lithuania's main centre-right opposition party looked set to win the first round of Sunday's parliamentary vote, with a disgraced ex-president making a strong comeback, according to an exit poll.

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Exit polls showed Lithuania's opposition Conservatives came top in a general election Sunday, beating the party of impeached president Rolandas Paksas and the ruling Social Democrats.

The Conservatives won 21 percent of the vote, Paksas' populist Order and Justice Party around 14 percent and Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas' Social Democrats just over 13 percent, the poll by the RAIT institute for the Baltic News Service showed.

The National Resurrection Party was next with just over 11 percent. The movement was set up by reality TV producer Arunas Valinskas in what he called a bid to restore Lithuanians' faith in their lawmakers.

The populist Labour Party -- run by controversial ex-minister Viktor Uspaskich who has faced a fraud probe -- won just under 11 percent.

Further complicating the picture was the fact that 47 percent of those polled by RAIT refused to say for whom they had voted.

The forecast results indicated that Lithuania's parties could be headed for another round of the tortuous coalition-building that has become the norm in this former Soviet republic which joined the European Union in 2004.

The Conservatives are deeply reticent about forming a government with Order and Justice and Labour, and sources said they were already locked in talks with the Social Democrats on forming an anti-populist "rainbow coalition".

But analysts said the traditionally pragmatic Social Democrats, who have held power since 2001 in a series of coalitions, could govern with the populists.

Kirkilas's government was made up of five parties, but none of his allies from Lithuania's small liberal and farmers' parties had cleared the five-percent hurdle required for seats in the 141-member parliament, the exit polls found.

Official results were due later Sunday or in the early hours of Monday, the national elections commission said.

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