An official of Macedonia's ruling coalition says Sunday's referendum challenging ethnic Albanian autonomy will go down to defeat for lack of sufficient turnout.

A spokesman for one of the ruling coalition parties, the Social Democratic Union, told reporters shortly after the polls closed that fewer than 30 percent of voters participated - far short of the 50 percent turnout needed for a valid election.

But the hard-line nationalists who organized the referendum refused to concede and accused the government of election fraud.

Official turnout figures were not yet available.

The Macedonian government, with encouragement from the European Union, had urged voters to boycott the referendum - a challenge to a new law granting ethnic-Albanians a measure of local autonomy.

Opponents of the referendum fear that its success will destabilize the country and jeopardize chances of joining NATO and the European Union.

Some information provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.