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Polls open in Macedonian election; EU watching

Written by: Staff
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SKOPJE, July 5 (Reuters) Polls opened in Macedonia today in a closely fought general election the European Union says must avoid the fraud and intimidation of past votes to keep the country's membership bid on track.

The ruling Social Democrats face a stiff challenge from the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, as voters vent frustration at a lack of jobs and decent wages 15 years after the country split peacefully from the former Yugoslavia.

Leaders have appealed for a free and fair vote, alarmed by a campaign marred by violence.

The EU and NATO say a repeat of irregularities that tainted local elections in March 2005 could put on ice Macedonia's bid to join both blocs five years after an ethnic Albanian insurgency tipped the country to the brink of civil war.

Polling stations close at 7.00 p.m. (1700 GMT) and exit polls are expected late on Wednesday.

REUTERS SK BST1105

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