'New Malta' votes to bring in divorce

Malta has voted in favor of introducing divorce in a referendum on the staunchly Catholic Mediterranean island, it was reported yesterday.

Malta was the last remaining European nation to ban divorce. The result in what had been billed as a historic referendum ushered in a "new Malta," according to a leading politician.

Returns from Saturday's polling were still being counted last night. But, according to early returns, about 52 per cent of people had voted in favor of divorce, the Times of Malta said.

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Prime minister Lawrence Gonzi, who had campaigned against legalisation, conceded, saying that parliament would respect the will of the people and work on legislation to introduce divorce.

Malta has long Catholic traditions and the church's influence on the nation's 400,000 citizens is significant. About 95 per cent of the population calls itself Roman Catholic. The country also bans abortion. Pope Benedict XVI visited Malta last year.

Turnout was about 72 per cent - among the lowest in Maltese voting. By contrast, turnout at the last general election at over 93 per cent.