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Pro-Russian candidate to face second round in Moldova presidential vote

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova’s presidential election will go to a second round, preliminary results showed early on Monday, after a pro-Russian socialist candidate fell short of winning sufficient support to achieve all-out victory.

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With 99.5 percent of votes counted, preliminary results showed candidate Igor Dodon, who wants to reverse Moldova’s course toward European integration, had won 48.5 percent, and his main pro-European challenger, Maia Sandu, had 38.2 percent.

Dodon needed to win 51 percent of votes to avoid a run-off on Nov. 13.

“I hope that the results of today’s vote and of the Nov. 13 run-off will bring about both change and stability: change by the election by popular vote of a pro-European president; stability in the functioning of a reform-driven triangle - president, government, Parliament,” Prime Minister Pavel Filip said in a statement.

The Central Election Commission will announce the final results of the first round within the next five days.

The ex-Soviet republic of 3.5 million, squeezed between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, plunged into turmoil in 2015 after the disclosure that $1 billion had disappeared from the banking system.

Street protests erupted and the International Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid to Moldova.

Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, one of five to hold that office in three years, was implicated, handcuffed live on TV in parliament and later jailed. But many Moldovans believe other members of the pro-EU elite were complicit in the scam.

“More than ever Moldova needs a president who represents all and doesn’t divide citizens of the country into supporters and opponents of integration in the European Union,” said Alexandra Sveichina, a 64-year-old pensioner. “The new president should reject geopolitics completely and focus on improving the lives of simple people.”

Sandu, a former World Bank economist and education minister, has warned against allowing the country, which relies heavily on energy supplies from Russia, to fall back into Moscow’s orbit.

If he wins, Dodon wants to call a referendum to extricate Moldova from a political and trade agreement signed with the EU in 2014 and join a Eurasian Customs Union dominated by Moscow, turning back the clock on years of closer ties with the West.

That would help strengthen Russia’s influence over Eastern European states, including Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

Additional reporting by Matthias Williams; Writing by Matthias Williams and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Lisa Von Ahn