Albanian Opposition Threatens Street Protests

Albania's opposition Socialists charged
Saturday that the ruling Democrats were improperly trying to
influence the country's lengthy vote count by declaring victory
before all ballots from last week's national election were tallied.

Albania joined NATO in April and has been under intense
international pressure to ensure the June 28 vote was free of the
fraud that marred the first six elections held after the Balkan
country's communist regime fell in 1990. But the Socialists
threatened to hold street protests after election authorities
declared late Friday that Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democrats
had won enough seats to form a government.

The country's electoral commission is re-counting ballots from
some polling stations following complaints about irregularities,
and the Socialists insist it cannot declare that the Democrats won
71 seats while recounts are still pending. They accuse Berisha of
trying to sway the electoral commission.

"I appeal to Berisha to abandon the idea of imposing himself on
the Albanian people ... unless he wants to meet and face the people
in the street," said Gramoz Ruci, a senior Socialist politician.

Both main parties ran on similar platforms, pledging to lift
Albania out of poverty and secure its goal of joining the European
Union.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe issued preliminary findings saying there were
improvements and fewer irregularities in this year's voting, but
that some violations such as family voting and the late opening of
polling centers persisted.

Election officials said late Friday that Democrats won 46.69
percent, giving them 71 seats in the 140-seat parliament - the
exact number needed to form a government.

Tirana Mayor Edi Rama's opposition Socialists won 45.36 percent,
or 65 seats, with a former prime minister's coalition in third
place, the Central Elections Commission said.

Berisha, acknowledging that he could at best form a weak
government, if the current results are upheld in the re-count,
invited the third-place SMI to join him in a coalition if the final
results confirm the current vote count.

SMI's head, former Prime Minister Ilir Meta, accepted the
invitation, saying it was "the only one in the country's
interest."

Rama responded by calling Meta "Berisha's crutches" and the
deal "the most shameful, humiliating bazaar of the last 18 years"
to create "a monster government."

Full final results are now expected in days, after all disputed
ballots are counted.

Based on the partial count, the election commission said 50
percent of Albania's 3.1 million registered voters had cast
ballots.


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