Malta opposition wins local elections

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VALLETTA, Mar 12 (Reuters) The opposition Labour Party won local elections held yesterdaty in a third of Maltese localities, results issued today showed.

Official results showed Labour won just under 54 per cent of the vote compared to 43 per cent for the ruling Nationalist Party. The ruling Nationalist Party three years ago had won a relative majority of 49 per cent in the same localities.

Labour was expected to have majorities in 15 of the 23 localities contested.

Turnout was 66 per cent, down almost 20 percent from three years ago, when the local elections were held concurrently with a referendum on EU membership.

''This is a convincing, extraordinary victory,'' Chris Cardona, the Labour spokesman on local councils said, adding that his party needed to keep its feet on the ground as it planned its future. General elections are not due for another two years.

Nationalist Party president Victor Scerri attributed most of his party's losses to abstentions but said the party would take note of the message, although he did not identify any single issue.

The vote took place days after the government announced a hefty increase in power prices and revealed plans to raise the retirement age to 65 from 61.

REUTERS DKS RN1359

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