September 10, 2000Macedonians vote in local elections
SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) -- Macedonians voted Sunday amid sporadic violence in tense local elections seen as a popularity test for a reformist federal government struggling with ethnic rivalries.
The vote pitted supporters of a coalition led by Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, which took office in 1998 with the backing of Western countries, against an opposition trying to capitalize on the unpopularity of painful economic reforms.
Preliminary results were expected Monday. Authorities said turnout was about 50 percent in the balloting for local officials in Macedonia's 124 districts.
Georgievski has said that if his three-party coalition loses by more than 10 percent, he is ready to call early parliamentary elections rather than risk instability in the impoverished Balkan country.
About one quarter of Macedonia's 2.2 million people are ethnic Albanians seeking broader rights and possible autonomy. The Slavic majority sees itself as under threat. The ruling coalition includes an Albanian party.
Sunday's voting was marred by isolated violence between ethnic and political groups.
An ethnic Albanian shot another ethnic Albanian from a rival political group at a polling station in the town of Debar, 55 miles southwest of the capital Skopje. The man is in critical condition and authorities suspended voting in the area.
Later in the day, a gunman shot into a crowd outside a polling station in the western Macedonian town of Kondovo, wounding three people.
The head of the opposition Party of Democratic Prosperity, Imer Imeri, said his party may not recognize results of the vote because of "intimidation and violence" that targeted his followers. He accused a rival ethnic Albanian group, the Democratic Party of Albanians, of being behind the attacks. The latter is part of the governing coalition.
Georgievski has led the governing coalition since 1998, when it defeated former Communists. He pledged swift economic recovery and smooth ethnic relations -- with support from the West.
But his popularity has been damaged as the average monthly salary remained at about $150, and much of the expected international loans needed to bail out the economy never materialized. His coalition in the 120-seat assembly has seen some legislators switch allegiances to join the opposition.
Arben Xhaferi, the leader of the ethnic Albanian party in the government, warned that further shakeups in the ruling parties, "could have far-reaching consequences in a volatile area such as Macedonia."
The only former Yugoslav republic that gained independence in the early 1990s without war, Macedonia gave shelter to hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanian refugees during NATO's 78-day bombing campaign last year. Macedonia also allowed NATO-led peacekeepers to use its territory for subsequent deployment in Kosovo.
Some 200 foreign observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and 300 local observers monitored the vote and will release a report later.