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Macedonia Votes Amid Gunfire and Alleged Fraud

Officials in the Republic of Macedonia say they will repeat voting in 22 precincts that were shut down during Sunday's parliamentary election because of a deadly shootout, reports of intimidation, and alleged fraud. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is claiming victory, saying his conservative party (VMRO-DPMNE) will control more than half of the seats in the 120-seat parliament. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Macedonian voters tried to cast ballots in the early parliamentary elections, despite gunfire and election irregularities, which led to the closure of nearly 20 polling stations.

Election officials said two separate shootings occurred in the village of Aracinovo, near the capital, Skopje.

Villagers reported the troubles began when someone tried to vote on behalf of multiple people for a party of the country's ethnic-Albanian minority. He and another party supporter were injured during a shootout with special police, and one apparently died of his injuries.

The shooting raised fears of a new wider ethnic conflict in the area.

Aracinovo is in a region where insurgents fought Macedonian government forces in 2001 to win more rights for ethnic Albanians, who comprise about a quarter of Macedonia's two million people.

There were also shootings and gunmen reported elsewhere in ethnic-Albanian areas, including near the headquarters of the Democratic Union for Integration party.

The election tensions follow a bitter campaign and allegations of assassination attempts against ethnic-Albanian opposition leaders.

Despite the troubles, the conservative party (VMRO-DPMNE) of the pro-Western Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is expected to win the ballot.

In televised comments, he urged supporters not to be intimidated by violence, and help his country to join the European Union and other Western organizations.

"Do not be scared about your decision, and do not ignore your responsibility," said Gruevski. "You have the right to ask things for your country. You can be a patriot and be proud to enter the European Union."

That opinion is shared by ethnic-Albanian opposition rival Ali Ahmedi, who says he recently survived an assassination attempt.

He told France 24 Television through an interpreter that he has urged supporters to vote, despite apparent threats.

"This physical threats against the party, which were repeated, are meant to terrorize them not to vote," said Ahmedi. "The more people vote, the larger the distance will be between the two parties."

Prime Minister Gruevski called the early parliamentary elections after failing to secure NATO membership for his country, which was blocked by Greece. It says Macedonia should first change its name, because it resembles one of Greece's provinces.

If re-elected, Prime Minister Gruevski's government is likely to include a partner from the ethnic-Albanian parties. The European Union has warned Macedonia that political and ethnic stability in the country is crucial for its European future.