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SEOUL, South Korea – The Latest on South Korea's presidential election (all times local):
South Korea's election body says nearly 64 percent of the country's 42.4 million eligible voters cast their ballots as of 3 p.m. Tuesday, representing a faster pace than the previous presidential election in 2012.
The National Election Commission's measurements on Tuesday included the 11 million who participated in last week's early voting, which was used for the first time in a presidential election.
The large number of people who cast their ballots early has been seen as a positive sign for front-runner Moon Jae-in.
South Korea's electorate is deeply divided along ideological and generational lines, and the strong early turnout was seen as being driven by younger voters, who are more likely to support the liberal Moon.
An NEC official projected the final voter turnout of around 80 percent, higher than the 75.8 percent of 2012. He says the winner of the election would be determined at around 2 to 3 a.m. Wednesday. He didn't want to be named, citing office rules.
A Japanese government official says his country is closely watching South Korea's presidential election and hopes to strengthen bilateral relations with the new leader.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the neighboring countries share common strategic interests.
He said Tuesday, "We believe Japan-South Korea cooperation on issues such as North Korean problem is indispensable for the peace and stability in our region."
Suga urged a new president to comply with the 2015 bilateral agreement aimed at resolving the longstanding "comfort women" dispute involving many Koreans and other women in Asia sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during World war II. The row persists over a statue built outside the Japanese consulate in Busan.
Conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo has described South Korea's presidential election as a war between ideologies and accused his liberal rival Moon Jae-in of being aligned with North Korea.
Hong cast his vote in Seoul on Tuesday and later said the election was a "war of regime choices between people, whether they decide to accept a North Korea-sympathizing leftist government or a government that can protect the liberty of the Republic of Korea." That is South Korea's formal name.
Opinion surveys have shown Moon as the favorite.
Hong has pitched himself as a "strongman" who can hold his own against other "nationalist" leaders in Washington, Tokyo and Beijing. He also calls for the United States to bring back tactical nuclear weapons to South Korea after withdrawing them in the 1990s.
Liberal candidate Moon Jae-in has expressed confidence of winning office as South Koreans vote for a new president.
He cast his vote in Seoul on Tuesday and told reporters later, "I gave all my body and soul (to the election) to the very end."
Moon was favored in opinion surveys after the huge corruption scandal that led to President Park Geun-hye's ousting complicated politics for the conservatives.
The 64-year-old Moon thanked people who stood with him to bring change. He said he and his party "invested all our efforts with a sense of desperation, but we also felt a great desire by people to build a country we can be proud of again."
Park is jailed awaiting trial later this month on bribery, extortion and other corruption charges.