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Campaigning in Macedonia Comes to a Close - 2002-09-14

Campaigning is over at midnight Macedonia time Friday for Macedonia's parliamentary election on Sunday.

On Friday afternoon a rally of the DPA, the Democratic Party of Albanians, took place in Macedonia's capital. Tetovo's main square was filled with over 7,000 supporters, many carrying red and black Albanian flags.

Participants in last year's armed rebellion were among the speakers and they were greeted with thunderous applause. Macedonian police kept their distance and closed the city center to vehicle traffic.

The DPA, which is part of Macedonia's coalition government, has become more radical in response to the surging popularity of a new Albanian party led by the main commander of last year's rebellion. That party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), canceled a planned Friday night rally in the capital, fearing that it could provoke a violent response from the government. DUI leader Ali Ahmeti says his party will significantly defeat its Albanian rival and will be prepared to govern with the winning Macedonian party.

Citizens in Macedonia will be choosing a 120 seat parliament. Ethnic Macedonian parties are expected to win over two thirds of the seats. Macedonians account for about two thirds of the population.

President Boris Trajkovsky Friday night appealed for calm and said the eyes of the world will be upon Macedonia. Some 800 international observers have spread out through the country to monitor the vote. The election is seen as an important test of last year's U.S. and European Union brokered agreement which ended the rebellion and granted Albanians more power including the right to use their language in public institutions.

Tensions have risen steadily in recent days. And several analysts say at least sporadic violence on election day is inevitable. Macedonia, which became independent in 1991, is the southernmost and poorest republic of the former Yugoslavia.