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[ALBSA-Info] Albanian Socialists claim general election victory

Gazhebo at aol.com Gazhebo at aol.com
Sun Jun 24 21:42:25 EDT 2001


Albanian Socialists claim general election victory

By Benet Koleka and Richard Murphy

  
TIRANA, June 25 (Reuters) - Albania's Socialist Prime Minister Ilir Meta 
claimed victory on Monday in his country's general election and dismissed 
opposition charges that the government had manipulated the result. 

Sunday's parliamentary election, the first in the poor Balkan nation since it 
descended into anarchy in 1997, was largely peaceful, with only minor 
violence reported. 

Both the Central Election Commission and independent Albanian observers said 
it had been generally fair. 

First official results were not due until later on Monday, but Meta told 
Reuters in a telephone interview he was confident he had won. 

"I am quite sure that the result shows a clear advantage for the Socialist 
party," he said. 

"I am sure the Socialist party will have more than 50 percent of the seats in 
parliament, including the second round." 

A second round of voting will be held in two weeks in constituencies in which 
there was no clear winner on Sunday. 

Meta, whose government has been praised by Washington and the European Union 
for its moderate stance on the conflicts in neighbouring Macedonia and 
Kosovo, said he was proud that voting had been "calm and democratic" 
throughout the country. 

"These were the best elections the country ever had," he said. 

Some 250 Western monitors observed the vote on behalf of the Organisation for 
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe. The two 
organisations were to give their assessments later on Monday. 

Ilirian Celibashi, head of the independent Central Election Commission, said 
there had been some problems in the vote in the country of 3.5 million 
people, but they had not been sufficient to undermine the validity of the 
election. 

"The election was fair and free," he said. Turnout was around 60 percent. 

OPPOSITION ALLEGES FRAUD 

Opposition Democratic Party leader and former President Sali Berisha, who 
never recognised the result of the 1997 election in which he lost power, said 
police had closed many polling stations early, preventing thousands of his 
supporters from voting. 

Asked if he would accept the outcome, Berisha told Reuters: "Everything will 
depend on how many people were disenfranchised and excluded from voting 
because Albanian police closed polling stations in violation of the law." 

Meta dismissed the allegations, saying police had behaved correctly and 
Berisha should accept that he had lost. 

"Then comes the next step, which is difficult for him, which is to resign," 
he added. 

An armed man shot two election officials after getting into a dispute with 
them at a polling station in the capital Tirana, the Public Order Ministry 
said. Neither was seriously hurt. 

In the village of Lekbibaj, in the lawless north of the country some 200 km 
(125 miles) from Tirana, armed men burst into a polling station and set fire 
to voting papers. 

No other significant incidents were reported. 

The campaign was peaceful, in contrast to the 1997 election, when an 
Italian-led peacekeeping force had just restored order after months of 
anarchy started by the collapse of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes. 

Albanian politics remains deeply polarised and hundreds of thousands of 
weapons looted from army barracks in 1997 are still in private hands. 

But the country has been peaceful since 1998 and the confrontation between 
the government and opposition has become much more low-key. 

The Socialists had 99 seats in the outgoing 155-seat parliament and the 
Democrats 29. The total number of seats is being reduced to 140 under a 
constitutional reform enacted in 1998. 



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