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Left wing majority ahead in Albania’s local elections

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Preliminary results Monday from Albania’s municipal elections show the country’s left wing governing coalition is ahead in most municipalities, including the capital and other main cities, while international observers said they noted no major irregularities in the voting process.

More than half the ballots from Sunday’s election have been counted so far. Albanians were voting to elect 61 mayors and 1,600 municipal counselors in a new trimmed-down municipal structure. Turnout was about 48 percent.

The smooth conduct of the vote is seen as key in boosting Albania’s bid to have the European Union launch membership negotiations with the country, as past elections have been marred by violence and irregularities. Albania was granted candidate EU status last year.

A U.S. Embassy statement said the vote was held “without major incidents or acts of violence.”

Only minor scuffles or alleged manipulation attempts were reported during the voting, which was monitored by about 200 international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe.

In preliminary findings Monday, monitors said the initial stages of the voting were “generally positive.”

But they added in a statement that the process was damaged by political confrontation between the Socialist-led coalition of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the center-right Democratic Party-led grouping of Tirana Mayor Lulzim Basha — who was not running for re-election.

Observers also noted the need for improvement of the legal framework and better management by the central election authority, and mentioned allegations of pressure on voters.

Though legally it should be concluded in three days, vote-counting in past Albanian elections has always been prolonged because of political squabbling.

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