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Croats vote 2-1 to join EU in 2013 (UPDATES)

Croats voted by a two-to-one margin on Sunday to join the European Union in 2013, according to near-complete results from a nationwide referendum.

Croatia eu referendum 2012 01 22 0Enlarge
Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic answers journalists' questions after casting his ballot at a polling station in Zagreb in today's referendum on EU membership. (-//AFP/Getty Images)

Croats voted by a two-to-one margin on Sunday to join the European Union in 2013, according to near-complete results from a nationwide referendum. 

With nearly 99 percent of votes counted, 66 percent of voters backed the membership, while about 33 percent were against, the BBC reported

Before the vote, reports indicated that the country’s citizens were divided over whether accession to the beleaguered 27-nation bloc would drag them into a debt crisis and erode Croatia’s sovereignty.

Several opinion polls suggested that between 56 and 60 percent of voters would support entry into the EU, the Associated Press reported, with those backing accession claiming that access to wider European markets and employment opportunities will help lift the Balkan country’s struggling economy.

Croatia, which has a population of 4.2 million, secured its independence two decades ago after it fought a bloody civil war to leave Yugoslavia. Its government hopes that becoming a member of the EU in July 2013 will boost investment and economic growth in the country, as well as marking a definitive break with a communist past, according to Bloomberg.

More from GlobalPost: Will Croatia join the EU?

President Ivo Josipovic said in a written statement on Sunday that “Europe will not solve all our problems, but it’s a great opportunity,” and assured Croatians that the country “will not lost its sovereignty or natural resources, nor will it be ruled by the EU.”

Despite all Croatia’s main parliamentary parties and most of the country’s Serb minority supporting accession, enthusiasm for EU membership has dwindled from a high point several years ago, according to the BBC.

Opponents say the country will gain nothing from entering the debt-stricken bloc and will have to give up its sovereignty and national identity. Yesterday police clashed with nationalist protesters attempting to take down an EU flag in central Zagreb, the Associated Press reported.

Croatia began negotiating its entry into the EU six years ago, and signed an accession treaty last December. It will become a full member if today’s voting yields a “yes” result and all 27 current EU members ratify the deal. 

More from GlobalPost: Croatia signs treaty to join European Union

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120122/divided-croatia-votes-referendum-eu-membership