CEOL
Macedonians split in local elections

SKOPJE, Nov 9, 2000 -- (Reuters) First results of local elections in Macedonia released on Monday showed a nation deeply split in the poll which opened an election season in the Balkans, Europe's most unstable region.

The opposition, led by the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) of ex-communists, had a firm lead over two parties in the reformist government coalition which represent ethnic Macedonians, VMRO-DPMNE and the Democratic Alternative.

But of the two main ethnic Albanian parties vying for control of the areas populated by one third of the country's population, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), part of the current government, was far ahead of its rival, PDP.

DPA was running separately from coalition partners in the first round on Sunday, promising to back their candidates in the second, scheduled for September 24.

PDP said its backers were widely intimidated and it would reject the result of the poll.

SDSM said its good showing amounted to a no-confidence vote in the government which gave it ground to expect an early general election.

"Today, the citizens of Macedonia made another great decision, which is that it needs an early parliamentary election," said triumphant SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski.

The Socialists said their candidates were poised to win in the first round in 70 percent of bigger municipalities, including the capital Skopje where one third of the country's 2.1 million people live.

But Slobodan Casule, spokesman for the Democratic Alternative, rejected SDSM appeal for an early poll.

COALITION LEADS WITH HALF VOTES COUNTED

He said that combined votes cast for all three coalition partners were about 43 percent after counting half of the votes cast, while SDSM and its allies had 38 percent.

"There is no need to have an early election, this will not happen," Casule told Reuters. "All three parties are in the coalition and it would be politically wrong to divide their votes."

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski has said he would favor early general election if the coalition lost by more than 10 percentage points. The decision is up to parliament and many senior officials oppose the idea. A general election is not due until 2002.

The observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has over 100 monitors at the polls, said it was looking into the reports of incidents in which several people were injured. OSCE observers are due to give their verdict on poll conduct on Monday.

Macedonia, one of Europe's poorest states with unemployment over 30 percent, is still recovering from the Kosovo crisis last year when some 300,000 Kosovo Albanians flooded in from the neighboring Yugoslav province.

Macedonia's own fragile ethnic balance and its geographical position, bordering Yugoslavia, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria, make it a key to stability in the Balkans.

The election in Macedonia, the only former Yugoslav republic to achieve independence - in 1991 - without a war, will be followed by presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections in federal Yugoslavia on September 24.

On October 28 Kosovo, wrenched from Belgrade's rule last year by a NATO bombing campaign that halted a Serbian military crackdown on ethnic Albanians, elects local councils which the UN administration hopes will help to implant democracy there.



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