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Heavy Turnout Reported in Macedonia Voting - 2002-09-15

Voting is nearly over in Macedonia's first parliamentary election since last year's rebellion by ethnic Albanians, who comprise up to a third of the population.

In the Albanian areas around Skopje and in Tetovo turnout was very high. There were long lines outside of polling stations, with many people having to wait an hour or more to vote.

Zoran Taneski, spokesman for the electoral commission, says with two hours of voting time remaining, there have been relatively few violent incidents. Mr. Taneski told reporters that 56-percent of the voters had thus far cast their ballots, including high percentages for Kratovo, Kriva Palanka, Stumica and Deva.

Good weather encouraged a strong turnout. But tension was high, particularly in Albanian areas.

The stakes are considerable, with no single party likely to win a majority in the 120-seat parliament.

Macedonian parties will need to form a coalition with Albanians in order to form a government. The election is a key test of last year's peace accord mediated by the United States and the European Union.

With two hours of voting remaining, one head of an international observer group said there had been fewer irregularities than expected.