Reuters, June 15, 2008
Police secure Macedonia re-vote; EU watching
ARACINOVO, Macedonia, June 15 (Reuters) - Macedonia held a partial re-run of parliamentary elections under tight security on Sunday, trying to avoid the violence of the original poll that threatens to delay the country's EU membership bid.
Police special forces, some in full riot gear, secured the re-run of voting in dozens of ethnic Albanian areas where the June 1 election was marred by fraud, intimidation and gunfights.
The European Union has warned that a repeat of that risked delaying Macedonia's bid for membership of the bloc. The Balkan country had hoped to clinch accession talks later this year.
Around 10 percent of the population is eligible to vote again, mainly in Albanian areas where voters are split between two rival parties vying for control across the north and west of the country where the 25 percent Albanian minority lives.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose conservative VMRO-DPMNE clinched an overwhelming victory two weeks ago, has appealed for calm, and warned party activists and their "political mentors" he will not tolerate a repeat performance.
Authorities reported only minor incidents in the morning.
"We hope this good atmosphere will last the entire day, and this correctional exam for Macedonia will show that its citizens can hold fair and democratic elections," state electroal commission president Jovan Josifovski told Reuters.
The re-run will not alter Gruevski's victory. He won the healthiest parliamentary majority in more than a decade, riding a wave of nationalist sentiment after Greece in April blocked an invitation for Skopje to join NATO in a row over the country's name.
Macedonia came to the brink of all-out ethnic civil war in 2001, but NATO and EU diplomacy persuaded Albanian guerrillas to disarm and enter politics, in exchange for greater rights.
The EU is determined to keep the former Yugoslav republic on the path to membership, to tackle the unemployment and poverty that continue to fuel tensions.
But monitors said the country had fallen short in its June 1 election, accusing the government of contributing to an atmosphere of impunity after it failed to prevent the violence.
In the worst incident, one person was killed in a shootout in the Albanian village of Aracinovo. On Sunday, Reuters reporters in the former militant strongholds of Aracinovo and Kondovo saw dozens of police and special forces on the streets.
"Trouble brings no good to anyone, but that was the past and we hope for better now," said voter Ilaz Prkopuca in Aracinovo. A second man blamed bad governance for the violence.
"The Macedonian leadership is not heading in the right direction, and that's why we have a re-run," said Naser Jakupi.
The election violence was not ethnically based. But the West is on the alert for signs of tension, months after Albanians in neighbouring Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
Gruevski is expected to pick one of the two main Albanian parties -- Ali Ahmeti's Democratic Union for Integration or Menduh Thaci's Democratic Party of Albanians -- as a coalition partner to bolster his majority in the 120-seat parliament.