Australian election on a knife-edge

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Voting in Australia's knife-edge general election starts on Saturday - with the British monarchy's ties to the country potentially at stake.

Both UK-born leadership front runners are at odds over the issue of republicanism, and this year's contest is said to be the closest in decades.

Most analysts expect the nation's current prime minister Julia Gillard, who this week called for the country to cut royal links after the Queen's reign ends, will hang on to power. The Welsh-born politician's election rival Tony Abbott said he sees no need to change the status quo.

Despite a trading record and two-decade growth streak which is the envy of most of the recession-hit Western world, Ms Gillard has struggled to gain a clear lead ahead of the vote.

Two months after unexpectedly toppling her predecessor Kevin Rudd as prime minister, Barry-born former lawyer Ms Gillard has locked horns with Mr Abbott over border protection, climate change and the economy.

Voting booths in the eastern Australia open just before midnight on Friday UK time, closing in western Australia on Saturday.

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