Albania holds parliamentary polls
Vote seen as crucial for country's bid for European Union membership.
Last Modified: 28 Jun 2009 11:01 GMT
The Democrats led by Berisha, the prime minister, is locked in a close race with opposition Socialists [AFP]

Albanians are voting in parliamentary elections seen as crucial for the country's membership in the European Union.

About 3.1 million voters are eligible to vote to elect 140 parliamentary deputies for a four-year mandate in Sunday's vote.

Various surveys have put the Democrats led by Sali Berisha, the prime minister, and Edi Rama's opposition Socialists close in the polls.
Voting opened at 7am (0500 GMT) and will close 12 hours later.

The election, with 4,000 candidates representing 39 parties and coalitions, is the seventh since the fall of communism in the 1990s.  
Since the fall of communism, all elections in Albania have been disputed and marred by violence.

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.

Membership condition
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 - are 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, his opponent Rama, 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," Rama said.

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