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VILNIUS, Lithuania – Polls opened Sunday in Lithuania for the second round of the presidential election, in which incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite is competing against the center-left candidate Zigmantas Balcytis.
Grybauskaite, who runs as an independent with the backing of the Baltic state's center-right parties, had 46 percent of the vote in the first round while Zigmantas Balcytis from the Social Democrats got 13 percent.
Grybauskaite, a karate black belt and former European Union budget commissioner, has been ahead in pre-election surveys. But in 1998 and 2003 the first round winner still lost in the second round.
In a country ruled by Moscow during the Cold War, 58-year-old Grybauskaite's approval ratings have risen after her strongly-worded rejection of Russia's annexation of Crimea and her staunch support for boosting NATO forces in Lithuania. She intensified her rhetoric and rallied more actively after failing to secure an outright victory in the first round of elections two weeks ago.
"Europe must understand that Russia is trying to redraw the post-war map and borders," Grybauskaite said recently. "First, it's Ukraine, Moldova will be next and, finally, it can reach the Baltic states and Poland. This is serious threat to our region."
An economist who was educated both in the Soviet Union and the United States, Grybauskaite served as Lithuania's finance minister and EU budget commissioner before becoming her country's first female president in 2009.
Pre-election surveys suggest that about 51 percent of the 2.5 million registered voters in the Baltic coastal nation intend to vote in the elections Sunday. Lithuanians will also vote to fill 11 seats in the European Parliament.