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Sunday, October 18, 1998 Published at 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK

World: Europe

Macedonia goes to the polls

Soldiers cast their votes the day before the rest of the electorate

Voters in the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia - which borders Kosovo - have voted in the country's second general election since independence from Yugoslavia.

Official results are not due until Monday. Parties representing ethnic Albanians have been pressing for more political and language rights in the run-up to the elections.

But the country's main parties have sought to play down the impact of the Kosovo crisis.

The governing Social Democratic Alliance and the opposition Movement for the Restoration of Macedonia have been focusing on economic issues and unemployment, which is around 40%.

Albanians could be kingmakers

Correspondents say the election may be so close the two main parties may have to rely on the support of ethnic Albanian deputies to secure a majority.

Earlier this week police in the capital, Skopje, arrested a group of ethnic Albanians suspected of carrying out bombings in several Macedonian towns over the past year.

Macedonia's Albanian-speaking minority - which makes up almost a quarter of the population - is concentrated in the west of the country.

Around 30 parties are contesting the election but only half a dozen have a realistic chance of making it into the 120-seat parliament.

[ image: President Gligorov...great survivor]
President Gligorov...great survivor
The Social Democrats provide Macedonia's Prime Minister, Branko Crvenkovski, and President, Kiro Gligorov. The latter, who survived a bomb attack in 1995, is not up for re-election until next year.

Macedonian politics is complicated by the country's fragile relations with its neighbours, Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria and Greece.

Trouble with the neighbours

When it declared independence in 1991 the country came under diplomatic and economic attack from Greece.

Athens was angry at the use of the name Macedonia - which is also one of Greece's northern provinces - and the star of Vergina symbol which it claimed as its own.

The symbol dates back to the time of Alexander the Great, whose father was King Philip of Macedon.

Skopje agreed to drop the symbol from its national flag and agreed to go by the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Relations with Greece have since improved.

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