/ 1 June 2008

One dead in Macedonia election violence

Macedonia’s parliamentary election descended into chaos on Sunday after one person was killed and nine wounded in shootings in ethnic Albanian areas, with voting halted in one town after a gun battle.

The poll is seen as a test of the nation’s political maturity after campaign violence raised fears that slow progress toward European Union membership could be further delayed.

State news agency MIA reported scuffles in several Albanian areas and a small explosive device thrown at an empty cafe, while just east of the capital, Skopje, voting was halted in the town of Aracinovo after a gun battle.

Police said officers went to the town after local election monitors reported the arrival of several men with machine guns. They came under fire and retaliated, killing one of the gunmen and injuring two others.

An official from the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) party disputed the police account, saying he was part of a convoy transporting ballot boxes and voting material that was stopped by plain-clothes police.

”They stopped our convoy and shot one round in the air, it was chaos, we got out from the cars and tried to flee,” Shefik Duraku said.

Several police vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers, were stationed just outside Aracinovo. The way into town was blocked by cars parked in the middle of the street.

In Skopje’s Cair neighbourhood, another shooting took place in the courtyard of a school serving as a polling station. One DUI official was in critical condition and five other people were wounded, police said.

The DUI’s leader, former guerrilla commander Ali Ahmeti, blamed the rival Democratic Party of Albanians and the police for ”provocations, violence and psychological terror”.

”What happened today [Sunday] is a black mark on Macedonia,” he said. — Reuters