Monday, June 02, 2008

Violence mars Macedonia poll

Macedonia's hopes of speedy Nato and EU membership were dealt a major blow when its parliamentary elections were hit by widespread violence.

At least one person was killed and several others wounded in gunbattles across the country.

The polling was also hit by allegations of fraud, intimidation and ballot box stuffing.

Most of the violence was between ethnic Albanians, whose two political parties have in recent years descended into a bitter feud. It forced Macedonia's electoral commission to suspend voting in up to 20 polling stations.

The bloodshed is a embarrassment for the Balkan nation, which came within a whisker of civil war in 2001. It was hoping flawless elections would prove its readiness to join the EU and Nato.

Instead, British MP Denis MacShane, who is an observer at the election, said results had been fatally compromised by the violence.

"No government can be formed as a result of this election," he said.

"New polls must be organised in all the districts where violence, intimidation and stuffing of ballot boxes have taken place."

The polls had been called two years early by conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in the wake of Macedonia's failure to secure Nato membership earlier this year.

Greece blocked Macedonia's Nato bid in April, after the two countries failed to find a solution to their long running dispute over the name Macedonia.

Ancient Macedonia, the homeland of Alexander the Great, stretched over territory which now falls largely within the borders of Greece and its northern neighbour.

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