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Macedonian Voters Go to Polls - 2002-09-14


Citizens of Macedonia choose a new parliament Sunday, bringing a close to a campaign that has sometimes been violent. The election is seen as a test of cooperation between Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians, who comprise up to one third of the population. VOA's Barry Wood gauged public opinion in Ohrid in the far south of the country.

It was a quiet pre-election Saturday in most of Macedonia. Only around Tetovo in the northwest was there again sporadic violence with one gunman dead after an early morning clash with police.

In Ohrid, Albanians and Macedonians have long coexisted without open violence. Near the city center, a festive gypsy wedding spills out into the street but people in cars are relaxed about a temporary roadblock.

The several Albanians I spoke to said without hesitation, they will vote for the party of Ali Ahmeti, the leader of last year's rebellion, who has recast himself as a peacemaker. Albanians comprise no more than 15 percent of the population of Ohrid, a lakeside town sometimes called one of Europe's loveliest spots.

Farther along the waterfront at a café, perched on a rock beneath a centuries old orthodox church, a Macedonian woman becomes agitated at the mention of Ali Ahmeti's name. He is, she insists, a terrorist and criminal, forbidden even to enter the United States. She is unable to contemplate Mr. Ahmeti's party being part of a new government.

And yet some analysts expect Mr. Ahmeti to play the role of king-maker in the next parliament. Albanian parties are expected to gain at least one quarter of the 120 seats and neither of the two rival Macedonian parties are expected to win an outright majority.

Here in Ohrid the domes of ancient orthodox churches blend easily with the tall minarets left behind from the time this region was governed from Turkey. Walking farther up cobbled streets, the passions of the café quickly vanish and seem as remote as Skopje and Tetovo several hours drive.

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