Rebel leader demands role in Macedonia


MACEDONIA: Macedonia's former rebel leader has demanded a role in the government after his political party won the ethnic Albanian vote in the country's first elections since a rebellion last year.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ali Ahmeti's party said he must be included in the next Macedonian government to ensure the country's stability.

Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) vice president Teuta Arifi said the party had the mandate of the ethnic Albanian people and should be invited into a coalition government.

"It's too early to speak about a coalition but we expect that the will of the Albanian people will be respected."

The leftist Social Democratic Union (SDSM) coalition under ex-communist Mr Branko Crvenkovski was on course to win a majority in the 120-seat parliament, sweeping aside the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of Prime Minister Mr Ljubco Georgievski.

Among the Albanian minority, which accounts for at least a quarter of the former Yugoslav republic's two million people, unofficial results showed a huge win for Mr Ahmeti, the National Liberation Army's (NLA) former political chief.

Mr Crvenkovski has said he would form a coalition with any ethnic Albanian party which has the backing of the minority community, but has ruled out sharing executive power with a former rebel like Mr Ahmeti.

The SDSM and its partners claimed to have won 61 out of 120 seats in parliament against 33 for the VMRO-DPMNE grouping and 16 for Mr Ahmeti's Democratic Union for Integration, with 98 per cent of the vote counted.

In 1992, Mr Crvenkovski became Europe's youngest-ever prime minister and held the post until 1998, when he lost an election to Mr Georgievski amid allegations of corruption.

"Macedonia has won. The people have won. We will work from our heart," said Mr Crvenkovski (40) after Mr Georgievski conceded defeat. "We will celebrate but the hard work is in front of us." Even if the SDSM has a majority, Mr Crvenkovski is obliged to form a coalition with an ethnic Albanian party under the terms of the so-called Ohrid peace deal which ended last year's rebellion.

Analysts said the SDSM would be under immense international pressure to invite Mr Ahmeti's three-month-old party into the government for the sake of inter-ethnic harmony.

"These elections are the most positive change in the history of Macedonia, and it's obvious that the citizens have a great wish for real democracy to be established," Mr Ahmeti (43) said.

The NLA led the revolt from its strongholds in north-western Macedonia. The conflict lasted seven months and prompted a response from the international community amid fears that a new Balkans war was close to igniting. - (AFP)