Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Macedonia nationalists seek coalition with Albanian party

SKOPJE, Macedonia-Macedonia's conservatives began seeking coalition partners Friday, after leading in national elections seen as crucial for the country's hopes to eventually join the European Union and NATO.

Wednesday's vote was also seen as an important step in overcoming tension and violence between Macedonia's Slav majority and ethnic Albanian minority.

Nikola Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party won the most votes but failed to gain an outright majority and will have to form a coalition with an ethnic Albanian party.

Trying to shake off its nationalist past, the party said it would join forces with anyone except the outgoing Social Democrats provided they accept its economic program.

A coalition with the ethnic Albanians is seen as imperative for preserving unity in this multiethnic country, with status talks on neighboring Kosovo a source of potential ethnic tension in the region.

VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Antonio Milososki said official talks can only start after the new parliament convenes, expected in about two weeks.

International observers said "serious irregularities" were registered in a dozen of polling stations, mainly in western Macedonia, but praised the poll overall.

While no major violence was reported, on Friday a hand grenade was thrown at a coffee shop in the northern town of Tetovo, where ethnic Albanians form a majority. The grenade shattered windows and damaged walls of the coffee shop, but caused no injuries, police spokesman Lulzim Shabani said.

Supporters of rival ethnic Albanian parties have clashed several times in the area during the run-up to the election.

With 99.4 percent of ballots counted, the VMRO-DPMNE led with 32.4 percent of the vote, while Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski's ruling Social Democrats had 23.3 percent, according to provisional results issued by the State Election Commission.

The ethnic Albanian DPA party has accused the rival ethnic Albanian DUI party of election fraud, and commission spokesman Zoran Tanevski said final results would be announced only after the complaints were examined, probably next week.

A partnership between VMRO-DPMNE and either DPA or DUI could bolster stability in Macedonia, five years after an ethnic Albanian uprising led to months of fighting against government troops. About 80 people were killed in the skirmishes.

Buckovski's outgoing government had partnered with the DUI, which on Wednesday won a provisional 12.2 percent of votes.

VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Milososki said any coalition partner would have to accept the party's economic program, which foresees higher rates of economic growth, increased employment, more foreign investment and increased salaries

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