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Albania's Socialists claim victory

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta casts his ballot in Sunday's voting  

TIRANA, Albania -- Albania's ruling Socialists say they won Sunday's general election, dismissing opposition accusations of government foul play.

Prime Minister Ilir Meta claimed victory on Monday.

"I am quite sure that the result shows a clear advantage for the Socialist Party," Meta, 32, told Reuters news agency. "I am sure the Socialist Party will have more than 50 percent of the seats in parliament, including the second round."

Socialist officials said the party looked set to win 45 out of 100 directly elected seats in the 140-seat parliament and that the opposition Democrats of former President Sali Berisha had won 17. Another 40 seats will be allocated to parties in proportion to their overall share of the vote.

A second round of voting will be held in two weeks in 37 constituencies where no clear winner was declared.

Berisha, who refused to recognise the results of the 1997 election that stripped him of power, told Reuters that police prevented thousands of his backers from voting by closing many polling stations early.

Whether he will accept the outcome "will depend on how many people were disenfranchised and excluded from voting because Albanian police closed polling stations in violation of the law," Berisha said.

However, Meta said police behaved properly and described the voting as "calm and democratic."

"These were the best elections the country ever had," Meta told Reuters.

The first official results from the Central Election Commission were expected later Monday morning. The commission reported turnout at about 60 percent and its head, Ilirian Celibashi, called the voting "free and fair."

Although gunfire broke out at one polling station and assailants burned ballots at another, voting was peaceful in contrast to the 1997 election. Four years ago, an Italian-led peacekeeping force had just restored order after months of anarchy started by the collapse of fraudulent pyramid investment schemes.

Arben Loka of the Society for Democratic Culture, which had fielded 850 monitors, described Sunday's election as "within the limits of normality despite certain problems."

Some 250 Western monitors observed the elections on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe. They were expected to release their judgment on the fairness of the vote late Monday.

Some 2.5 million people were eligible to vote. Thirty-eight parties were fielding candidates and a total of 1,114 candidates were seeking election. The Socialists have 99 seats in the outgoing 155-seat parliament and the Democrats 29. The total number of seats is being reduced to 140 under a constitutional reform enacted in 1998.

• Council of Europe

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