SKOPJE, Macedonia (AFP) — Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski claimed his centre-right party won a landslide victory in general elections Sunday that were marred by ethnic violence.
Gruevski said results collated by his VMRO-DPMNE party showed it secured more than twice the number of votes of its nearest rivals, the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), with around 80 percent of ballots counted.
"If this trend continues, we will have more than 60 seats in the (120-seat) parliament," Gruevski said at a press conference at his Skopje party headquarters, which was packed with cheering supporters.
Party loyalists had already taken to the streets of the capital, waving Macedonian flags, singing and congratulating each other to celebrate the outcome, which was later confirmed by electoral authorities.
Electoral commission president Jovan Josifovski a press conference that VMRO-DPMNE won 376,636 votes against 178,785 for the opposition SDSM, based on more than 82 percent of the official ballot count.
"I congratulate VMRO-DPMNE on its results, but the price paid during the elections was too high," SDSM leader Radmila Sekerinska said in reference to the unrest, adding the centre-right now had huge responsibility.
The parliamentary elections -- Macedonia's fifth since independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 -- were seen as a test of the landlocked Balkan state's democratic credentials and of its ambitions to join the EU and NATO.
But they were marred by unrest, including the shooting death of one person in Aracinovo, an ethnic Albanian-populated area where polling was also tainted by allegations of intimidation and ballot fraud.
Police said nine people were arrested in the incident involving activists of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), the strongest Albanian party which has been in opposition since the last elections in mid-2006.
Another gun battle left two wounded in the northern Cair municipality, and there were reports of stolen and stuffed ballot boxes in other ethnic Albanian regions.
The violence forced electoral authorities to halt voting at around 20 polling stations including in Aracinovo, a stronghold of Albanian rebels who fought government forces in 2001.
In his victory speech, Gruevski vowed an election re-run in the affected areas, and expressed "condolences to the families of those who were victims of incidents today."
"In two weeks, Macedonia will show that it can have fair, free and democratic elections in all of its polling stations, and that it deserves to continue its (Euro-Atlantic integration) path," he said.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had earlier demanded polling be repeated in any affected areas, while the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, said it was "very concerned" by the violence.
Erwan Fouere, the EU envoy in Macedonia, said the incidents were "deeply disturbing" and stressed "violence and intimidation have no place" in a democratic society.
In a bitter campaign, DUI leaders accused their fierce rivals, the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA), of responsibility for attacks on its offices and an "assassination" attempt on its leader Ali Ahmeti.
The elections were held amid uncertainty over Macedonia's integration with the European Union and NATO after Greece vetoed an invitation for it to join the transatlantic alliance in April.
Athens made the move because of a long-running row over the right to the name Macedonia, which is shared by a Greek province. In international forums, Macedonia goes by the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
A month earlier, the DPA had withdrawn its support for the Gruevski government in protest at its slowness in recognising the independence of neighbouring Kosovo.
Macedonia won EU candidate status in 2005. However, political turmoil, Albanian tensions and corruption have meant the 27-nation bloc has yet to set a date for the start of membership talks.
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