- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) - Macedonia’s prime minister has declared victory in the country’s parliamentary election after a vote that was marred by gunbattles that left one person dead.

Nikola Gruevski said his center-right VMRO-DPMNE party had won enough votes yesterday to gain a majority of parliament’s 120 seats.

Final official results are not out, but initial returns showed VMRO far ahead of the opposition Social Democrats.

The prime minister described his win as a “historic victory,” and headed to the capital’s main square. Hundreds of supporters gathered, waving party flags and chanting his name.

Gunbattles left one person dead and eight others wounded, a blow to the Balkan country’s hopes of proving its credentials to join the European Union and NATO.

The violence in ethnic-Albanian areas forced authorities to suspend voting in 22 polling stations, 1 percent of the country’s total, State Electoral Commission spokesman Zoran Tanevski said.

The government said voting would be repeated in those polling stations in two weeks.

“We are deeply concerned by the many … corroborated reports of not only acts of intimidation, but also blatant violence, shooting, injuries to innocent people,” Erwan Fouere, head of the European Union office in Macedonia, told the Associated Press.

Yesterday’s shootouts were either between rival ethnic-Albanian groups or in standoffs with police, Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski said. Twenty-one people were arrested.

Ethnic Albanians make up about a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1 million people. Rebels fought a six-month insurgency in 2001 for more rights, but now the two main ethnic-Albanian political parties are locked in bitter rivalry.

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