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Macedonian government concedes defeat in election

Written by: Staff

SKOPJE, July 6 (Reuters) Macedonia's Social Democrat prime minister Vlado Buckovski conceded defeat to his conservative opponents in a general election, answering European Union calls for a prompt and clear result.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party said Buckovski, the country's leader for the past two years in tandem with a party of former Albanian rebels, had called their headquarters to congratulate them on their election victory.

''I called (opposition leader Nikola) Gruevski to congratulate him and to ask him to form a government as quickly as possible. If he can't, we are here,'' Buckovski said on state television yesterday.

The opposition victory was predicted by pollsters. But whether it can find an Albanian political partner to form a new governing coalition is another question, the polls indicated.

The Albanian party in the coalition, led by former rebel commander Ali Ahmeti, was seen holding its majority in Albanian constituencies mainly in the west of the former Yugoslav republic.

The VMRO-DPMNE claimed it had won 55 of 120 seats in parliament, against 32 for the ruling Social Democrats.

The state election commission said VMRO-DPMNE, last in power when the Albanian insurgency was at its height in 2001, was leading in five of the country's six electoral districts, with 36 percent of votes counted.

Turnout was relatively light at about 60 percent.

The election passed off peacefully after a sometimes violent campaign that drew warnings from the European Union and NATO that the country had to prove its democratic maturity.

As polls closed at 7 p.m. local time, there had been no reports of serious incidents.

''We are talking about fair and democratic elections, well organised and with very few irregularities,'' Aleksandar Bastevski, a member of the State Electoral Committee, told reporters.

FAIR VOTE Macedonian leaders had appealed for a free and fair vote to answer EU and NATO doubts over the country's readiness to move along the road to membership in the coming years.

''I expect today's vote will show that Macedonia has the democratic capacity to pass the most important tests, and draw closer to NATO and the EU,'' Buckovski told reporters.

The EU envoy to Skopje, Erwan Fouere, said during a tour of potential hotspots that he hoped ''this will be an important landmark for Macedonia''.

Buckosvski's multi-ethnic coalition has come under fire for failing to provide jobs or decent wages 15 years after Macedonia split peacefully from Yugoslavia.

The Balkan country of 2 million people came close to full-blown civil war in 2001 during a six-month long ethnic Albanian insurgency. The EU brokered a peace deal, and made Macedonia an official candidate for membership in December 2005.

But Brussels stopped short of setting a date for accession talks, urging faster reform and better elections.

President Brank Cervenkovski, a Social Democrat, said he expected approval from Macedonia's EU mentors.

''I hope we'll earn positive remarks from Brussels, which will enable Macedonia to continue on its path to the EU and NATO,'' he said.

Opinion polls suggest the Social Democrats have lost ground to VMRO-DPMNE. Their modest economic reforms failed to reduce jobless figures of more than 30 percent or push the average monthly wage above 250 euros (320 dollars).

The 25-nation EU says it will review Macedonia's membership bid, including its performance on elections, in October.

Reuters DH VP0445

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