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Albania Elections Marred by Violence, OSCE  Says

An official of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has accused extremists of Albania's Socialists and the main opposition Democratic Party of intimidating voters and officials during Sunday's parliamentary elections. OSCE Ambassador to Albania Pavel Vacek has told VOA News the election was marred by serious irregularities and violence in which at least one election official was killed.

Mr. Vacek, tells VOA News Sunday's ballot went off without the high level of violence that had marred previous elections, but says he is disappointed that 15 years after the collapse of Communism, Albania is still unable to hold elections that fulfill all democratic standards.

"One can speak of a certain progress, but certainly we have not seen a complete departure of the malpractices of the past. A number of irregularities were reported on polling day," Mr. Vacek says. "And most importantly, the polling day has been marred by one tragedy, a murder of an election observer for the Republican Party. That in itself is very regrettable.

Police say the election official was shot and killed outside a voting station in Tirana, but it is unclear if political motives were behind the murder.

Mr. Vacek blames extremists of the main Socialist and Democratic parties for the violence.

"We are talking about confrontations of militants sometimes even armed militants of the respective parties," Mr. Vacek says. "What is a fact of life in Albania is that there are probably still hundreds of thousands of [fire] arms, [such as] hand guns illegally held by the population."

Ambassador Vacek said he was also disappointed that numerous polling stations opened late on Sunday, and that there were technical problems at other stations.

The European Union had made it clear to the Albanian government that it would consider the election as a test of the Balkan country's readiness to sign an association agreement that would put Albania on track to join the EU.

Early returns showed Monday leader of the opposition Democratic Party Sali Berisha had a slight lead over the ruling Socialists. Final results are expected on Tuesday.

Whoever wins will face a difficult task of raising the country's standard of living. Despite some improvement in the economy, one out of four Albanians lives in poverty.