THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Prominent Euroskeptic Geert Wilders expressed disappointment Thursday after a Dutch exit poll showed his party losing support on the first day of voting in European Parliament elections.
The shock slide for Wilders' Party for Freedom bucked the expected trend of anti-EU parties winning support across the continent.
Only the Netherlands and Britain voted on the first day of elections whose official results will not be known until Sunday night when all 28 nations in the bloc have gone to the polls.
But an exit poll by Ipsos published by broadcaster NOS showed Wilders' Party for Freedom, known by its Dutch acronym PVV, slipping from 17 percent of the Dutch vote five years ago to 12.2 percent.
"We fought like lions," Wilders told supporters at an election night party that was plunged into silence by the unofficial results. "The truth is that the exit polls are disappointing."
He blamed PVV supporters who did not vote for his party's poor result, but said the low turnout showed Dutch people's "aversion and disinterest" in Europe.
Reinier Heutink of Ipsos told NOS the agency's exit poll was at more than 40 locations across the Netherlands and expected to get responses from some 20,000 voters. He did not give a margin of error.
Euroskeptic parties like Wilders' had been the expected beneficiaries of a disillusioned and apathetic electorate. The Dutch Socialist Party, which also is strongly skeptical of the EU, got 10 percent of the vote, up from 7.1 percent at the 2009 elections, Ipsos said.
Instead, the Dutch pro-Europe D66 party appeared to be heading for victory with 15.6 percent of the vote. Ipsos said there was a 37 percent turnout.
"It looks like our clear pro-Europe message has got us more support," the party's leader in Europe Sophie in 't Veld told NOS.
Some 400 million Europeans are eligible to vote, with national polls being held through Sunday. Results will be announced late Sunday.
More than 16,000 candidates from 953 parties or lists -- from greens to feminists to the far-right -- are vying for the legislature's 751 seats.
Continent-wide voter turnout was 43 percent at the last election in 2009 but could slump even lower this time. Many voters are weary after several years of economic crisis and austerity, and increasingly skeptical of efforts to unite the continent into an economic and political superpower.
In Britain, the anti-EU U.K. Independence Party could gain the largest share of votes.
"If we get what we like things will never be quite the same again," said its leader, Nigel Farage, as he prepared to vote at a school near his southern England home.
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