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The Latest: Vucic declares victory in presidential race

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/04/2017
Current Serbian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Aleksandar Vucic, right, arrives at a polling station to cast his ballot, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, April 2, 2017. Around 6.7 million voters in Serbia choose a new president in an election Sunday that will test the popularity of the dominant, populist prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, against 10 beleaguered candidates from the fragmented opposition. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) © The Associated Press Current Serbian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Aleksandar Vucic, right, arrives at a polling station to cast his ballot, in Belgrade, Serbia, Sunday, April 2, 2017. Around 6.7 million voters in Serbia choose a new president in an election Sunday that will test the popularity of the dominant, populist prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, against 10 beleaguered candidates from the fragmented opposition. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia — The Latest on Serbia's presidential election (all times local):

9:30 p.m.

Serbia's autocratic leader, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, has claimed victory in the presidential election.

Speaking to supporters at his right-wing party's headquarters on Sunday night, Vucic said, "This is a very important day for us, showing which way Serbia should be heading."

Vucic spoke after an early projection by an independent pollster had him receiving more than 55 percent of the votes cast during Sunday's election.

He needed to win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on April 16.

While his backers chanted "Victory, victory!" Vucic noted that he had won more votes than the 10 opposition candidates he faced combined.

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9:00 p.m.

An early projection by independent pollsters indicates that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has won Serbia's presidential election in the first round.

The Ipsos Strategic Marketing agency projected that Vucic received more than 55 percent of the votes cast during Sunday's election.

The polling agency has a representative sample of votes from different polling stations and issued its projection with nearly half of the vote sample tallied.

If confirmed during an official count Monday, the result would mean Vucic has won the presidency outright and there will be no runoff election.

A strong showing would boost his already powerful position as Serbia's undisputed leader.

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8:35 p.m.

It's only natural that a mock candidate would declare a mock election victory as soon as the polls close.

Luka Maksimovic, a media student who ran as a parody politician during Serbia's presidential election, claimed he had garnered just under 68 percent of the vote during Sunday's balloting.

Official results from the election are not expected until at least Monday.

That didn't stop Maksimovic from setting off fireworks and shouting: "I am the true winner!" Close associates immediately collapsed around him, pretending to faint at the news.

As a satirical candidate, Maksimovic mocked corruption in Serbian politics by promising to steal if he were elected. His supporters are mostly young voters alienated by decades-long crisis and economic decline.

Maksimovic' s widely viewed videos on social media networks portrayed him doing push-ups, sucking a raw egg and riding a white horse surrounded by mock bodyguards.

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8:05 p.m.

Polls have closed in Serbia, where the just-concluded presidential election was seen as a test of public support for populist Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his autocratic rule.

Vucic, an ultranationalist turned a pro-EU politician, is forecast to win Sunday's contest by a high margin. His political clout could face a blow, however, if he does not sweep his 10 opponents in the first round of voting.

Vucic needs to win by more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff on April 16 that would put him in a much trickier position against a single opposition candidate.

Vucic, who has been Serbia's prime minister since 2014, is expected to use a victory to appoint a figurehead successor and transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more muscular role.

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7:15 p.m.

Election authorities in Serbia say they recorded no serious irregularities during voting in the country's presidential election.

The State Election Commission said there were only minor problems that were immediately fixed by officials at polling stations.

Earlier, Serbian police said a drunken man was detained for allegedly tearing a ballot during Sunday's election.

Independent election observers have reported alleged attempts to bribe voters and people trying to cast ballots without proper identification, but say the irregularities were isolated incidents that didn't affect the overall voting process.

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6 p.m.

Independent election observers say Serbia's presidential election saw sporadic irregularities such as bribes being offered to voters and people casting ballots without proper identity documents.

But the Center for Research, Transparency, and Accountability in Serbia said the irregularities were isolated cases that don't threaten the integrity of the outcome of Sunday's vote.

The group says it plans to file legal motions in three bribery cases in northern Serbia.

It says other irregularities included people not having their fingers checked for invisible spray marks that would indicate if they'd already voted.

CRTA says that despite some serious problems the balloting mostly was conducted in line with procedures for guaranteeing fair elections.

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3:35 p.m.

About 30 percent of Serbia's electorate had turned out to vote in the country's presidential election six hours before the polls were to close.

That turnout is about the same as when Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic's right-wing party won a parliamentary vote in 2014. Vucic is now seeking the presidency.

Opposition candidates were expected to benefit from a higher turnout.

Vucic needs to win by more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on April 16 that would put him in a much trickier position against a single opposition candidate.

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11:55 a.m.

Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic's main challengers in the presidential election include human-rights lawyer and former Ombudsman Sasa Jankovic, former Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic and Vucic's former mentor, Vojislav Seselj.

Jankovic, an independent candidate, said Sunday he's happy with his campaign, which has galvanized the pro-democratic movement in Serbia that has been upset with the country's persistent corruption and growing autocracy.

The opposition has accused Vucic of muzzling the media and intimidating voters ahead of the election. Vucic denies such accusations, saying only he can bring stability to a region scarred by the wars of the 1990s, which Vucic had supported at the time.

One of the biggest surprises of the election campaign has been Luka Maksimovic, a media student who is running as a parody politician.

Decked out in a white suit, oversized jewelry and a man-bun, Maksimovic's satirical candidate mocks corruption in Serbian politics by promising to steal if he is elected.

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9:45 a.m.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic is taking inspiration from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

If he wins the country's presidential election as expected Sunday, Vucic is likely to transform the Serbia's largely ceremonial presidency into a more powerful position that would let him rule unchallenged, like Putin has.

Contrary to his claims that he wants to lead Serbia into the EU, Vucic has been pushing for deeper ties with longtime ally Russia.

Putin has endorsed Vucic in the election against 10 opposition candidates.

Right before the vote, Vucic visited Putin, who reportedly promised to deliver fighter planes, battle tanks and armored vehicles to Serbia.

The move triggered fears of an arms race in the western Balkans, which Russia considers its sphere of influence.

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8:45 a.m.

Voters in Serbia are casting ballots in a presidential election seen as a test of public support for populist Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and his autocratic rule.

Vucic, an ultranationalist turned a pro-EU politician, is slated to win by a high margin against 10 opposition candidates. His political clout could face a blow, however, if he does not sweep his opponents in the first round of voting Sunday.

Vucic needs to win by more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff election on April 16 that would put him in a much trickier position against a single opposition candidate.

Vucic, prime minister since 2014, is expected to use his win to appoint a figurehead successor and transform the presidency from a ceremonial office into a more muscular role.

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