Sunday, June 01, 2008

Macedonia poll marred by unrest

General election voting has been suspended in five areas of Macedonia amid unrest in which at least one person has been killed and more hurt.

There have been several shootings, including two in Albanian stronghold Aracinovo, where one person died when police clashed with gunmen.

The poll was called after Greece vetoed the former Yugoslav republic's attempt to join Nato because of its name.

Macedonia is also the name of a northern region of Greece.

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski condemned the outbreaks of violence and reports of voting irregularities including stuffed ballot boxes.

"I want to express my conviction that we will succeed in calming the atmosphere and that we will complete the day as a country with democratic potential," he said in appealing for calm.

'Assault on democracy'

Denis MacShane, the MP who is leading the UK observer delegation, called the violence and disruptions, "an assault on democracy unacceptable in today's Europe".

He added: "No government can be formed as a result of this election. New polls must be organised in all the districts where violence, intimidation and stuffing of ballot boxes have taken place."

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called the election in April hoping to secure an absolute majority for his centre-right VMRO-DPMNE party.

The parliamentary election had originally been scheduled for 2010.

His party promises not to change the name of the country under Greek pressure, to push on with reforms aimed at EU admission, to revive the economy and to tackle corruption.

Greeks say the name implies a territorial claim over its northern province and resent a perceived attempt to claim the heritage of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great.

Kosovo question

The country's ruling coalition is also divided over recognising Kosovo as an independent state.

Around a quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian, like most of Kosovo.

The next government is likely to face strong pressure from the ethnic Albanian parties to speed up the country's recognition of Kosovo, the BBC's Helen Fawkes reports.

Sunday's vote could determine whether Macedonia joins both Nato and the European Union, most of whose members did recognise Kosovo when it declared independence in February.

Macedonia had been warned that any violence could harm its chances of integration with the West.

The election campaign had been overshadowed by violence between rival ethnic Albanian parties.

There have been shootings and grenade attacks on party offices

Recent opinion polls favoured the VMRO-DPMNE, suggesting it would take between 26% and 31% of the vote.

Its nearest rival, Radmila Sekerinska's Social Democrats, was given between 10% and 11% by the same polls.

No comments: