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2 Main Macedonian Presidential Candidates Face Run-Off - 2004-04-15

The prime minister of the former Yugoslav republic, Macedonia, was the top vote getter in Wednesday's presidential poll, but was unable to avoid a run-off contest against a nationalist rival. The final winner will replace late President Boris Trajkovski, who died in a plane crash before he could complete his self-declared mission of reconciliation from ethnic tensions.

With most of the votes counted, the Macedonia State Election Commission says Social Democratic Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski won the first round of presidential elections, with about 43 percent of the vote.

His main rival, Sasko Kedev of the opposition VMRO Party, came in second with roughly 35 percent.

Sharing what is left of the ballots are two former militants of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian community. The two main winners now face each other in a run-off ballot, April 28.

Although both men pledged to lead the country into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 41-year-old Prime Minister Crvenkovski is seen as more experienced and moderate than his rival of the same age, Mr. Kedev, known as a nationalist.

Mr. Kedev plastered posters throughout the country, positioning himself as what he called the "new face of Macedonia."

Whoever becomes Macedonia's third head of state, will take over a troubled impoverished nation.

About one in three people are unemployed and ethnic tensions remain in the aftermath of a 2001 conflict between Macedonian security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters.

Prime Minister and presidential candidate Crvenkovski says, if he is elected, he will continue the policy of moderation introduced by President Trajkovski.

That policy lead to a Western-brokered peace agreement which granted more cultural and political rights to Macedonia's Albanian minority.

Although the post of president is largely ceremonial in Macedonia, he still can play an important role as commander in chief of the armed forces and is often seen as a beacon of stability in the country's volatile Balkan politics.