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BREAKING NEWS

Moldovans divided between EU and Russia as they head to the polls

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Moldovan president Igor Dodon shakes hands with Vladimir Putin
Moldovan president Igor Dodon shakes hands with Vladimir Putin
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The former Soviet Republic of Moldova goes to the polls on Sunday with voters roughly split between pro Russian and pro EU parties.

Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova has struggled to find its place since gaining independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

While many in the country of 3.5 million want to maintain close ties with Moscow, others seek to follow the example of Romania -- with which Moldova shares a language and long history -- and look west to the European Union.

Sunday's vote is shaping up as a three-way race between the pro-Russian Socialist party of President Igor Dodon, the ruling Democratic party and a pro-European alliance.

Its Moscow leaning President Igor Dodon is having to to defend himself against corruption allegations.

Last year the country ranked 117 out of 180 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The NGO warned the government was putting pressure on activists.

The World Bank meanwhile said in a recent report that Moldova was "captured by oligarchic interests".

"Successive governments promised to combat corruption and transform the judiciary... but little has changed on the ground", it noted.

The campaign was shaken up on Thursday when two leader of a pro-EU opposition alliance said they had been poisoned with mercury.

Then on Friday pro government media reported that there was plans to assassinate president Dodon.

And in an emotional display a small group of people in the capital Chisinau put out the shoes of relatives who've left the country.

Official figures suggest a third of the population have voted with their feet and left for the EU and Russia in search of work and a better life.

Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union in 2014, but Moscow still exerts a strong influence in the region.