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International Observers Criticize Macedonia Election


International observers say Macedonia's elections, which were disrupted by ethnic violence, failed to meet international standards. The prime minister's conservative party, which advocates pursuing European Union membership, won the election. But observers say European integration could be more difficult following the election-day violence that left at least one person dead and several others injured. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's Conservative Party (VMRO-DPMNE) won a decisive victory over the Social Democrats. But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said its monitoring mission found what it called, "organized attempts to violently disrupt the electoral process in parts of the ethnic Albanian areas."

The OSCE also cited what it said were "numerous serious irregularities," including intimidation, stuffing of ballot boxes and tampering with the results.

One person was killed, and at least eight others were wounded in election related violence.

Prime Minister Gruevski pledged to repeat voting in 22 precincts that were shut down because of violence during Sunday's election.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission, Krisztina Nagy, told reporters that the EU's enlargement commissioner expressed his concerns about the violence in a conversation with Macedonia's prime minister.

"Prime Minister Gruevski has given his commitment that the elections will be re-run in those polling stations where violence and disorder occurred," she said. "We call for a peaceful and orderly conduct of the voting during the re-runs."

Election observers have blamed Prime Minister Gruevski for ignoring the risk of violence within the ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up about a quarter of Macedonia's population. Ethnic Albanian insurgents fought the government in 2001 for more civil and political rights.

The European Commission expressed concerns the election violence could affect Macedonia's efforts to join the European Union and other Western institutions. Again, European Commission spokeswoman Nagy.

"The Commission has defined eight specific benchmarks in March that have to be fulfilled by the country in order to allow the Commission to allow the accession negotiations with the European Union," she said. "And the Commission has also very clearly stated during the past weeks that the organization of free and fair elections is an essential element of the political criteria."

Macedonia's government scheduled early elections after Greece blocked its efforts to win an invitation to join NATO during a summit of alliance leaders in Romania in April.

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