Election 'violations'

Foreign election observers said on Monday that despite improvements, Albania had not complied with international standards in its election due to the politicisation of the process and political mistrust.

Representatives of a 500-member team from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation, Europe's main election watchdog, said violations during the campaign had undermined public confidence.

The exit poll conducted by the Kosovo-based Gani Bobi showed Berisha almost nine per cent ahead of Rama.

According to the poll - conducted in 12 districts and broadcast by TV Klan - the Democratic Party won 47.5 per cent of the vote, Rama's Socialist Party got 38.8 per cent and Ilir Meta, a former prime minister, garnered 6.5 per cent.

About 3.1 million voters were eligible to vote to elect 140 parliamentary deputies for a four-year mandate in the vote, seen as crucial for the European future of the Balkan country.

The election, with 4,000 candidates representing 39 parties and coalitions, was the seventh since the fall of communism in the 1990s.

The Balkans state has joined the Nato military alliance and took its first small step towards joining the European Union by submitting its membership application in April.

EU entry criterion

The EU has indicated that any progress towards membership for the predominantly Muslim nation of 3.6 million that remains one of Europe's poorest countries, depends on holding peaceful elections that meet international standards.

Some 3,000 monitors - including 500 foreigners - were on hand to observe the voting process.
  
At the final rally in Tirana, the capital, late on Friday, Berisha called on "all Albanians to be united behind our European dream, to unite in our effort to make Albania similar to the whole of Europe".
  
Addressing a separate rally, Rama, who is also the mayor of Tirana, said the "time for a big change is about to come".
  
"The Socialists are those who will take Albanians towards Europe, for the Democrats have lost their chance," he said.