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Macedonia's Albanian Minority Parties to Join Election Boycott

FILE - Ethnic Albanians hold a large Albanian flag during a protest by ethnic Albanian civic organizations and several minor political parties in front of the parliament building in Skopje, Macedonia, demanding the establishment of the rule of law, April 22, 2016.

Two Albanian political parties in Macedonia said on Wednesday they would join a boycott of the parliamentary election on June 5 in protest over government control of the media and state bodies, raising doubts about the viability of the poll.

The early election was called last month after lawmakers dissolved parliament as part of the European Union-brokered deal to end the political deadlock linked to a wiretapping scandal.

Macedonia has been in turmoil since February last year, when the opposition accused then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief of wiretapping more than 20,000 people.

The wiretapping exposed tight government control over journalists and judges, and the conduct of elections.

The two parties represent Macedonia's Albanian minority in parliament — about one third of the population.

The opposition Social Democrats had already pledged to boycott the election, saying they will not take part until a free and fair vote can be held.

The Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a junior partner in the coalition government, said it would not register candidates by a Wednesday midnight deadline.

Asked whether the DUI would submit candidates, party spokesman Bujar Osmani said by text message: "The answer is no."

The opposition Democratic Party of Albanians was quoted as saying it also would not register candidates.

"We have already said that the conditions for fair and democratic elections on June 5 are not met, and that's why we won't take part in them," DPA spokesman Luan Tresi told the Plusinfo internet portal. Party officials were not immediately available.

The parties want electoral rolls to be brought up to date, media to be freed from government control, and ruling party officials to be prevented from running government bodies.

President Gjorge Ivanov has pardoned 56 officials involved in the scandal despite street protests and national and international calls on him to change his mind.

The European Union has threatened sanctions against Macedonian politicians it accuses of obstructing efforts to end the crisis.

Representatives of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party could not immediately be reached for comment, but the party has said it will go ahead with the election despite opposition announcements of a boycott.

Analysts and diplomats suggest, however, that it may difficult to hold an election with only one party taking part.