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Polls Open In Macedonian Presidential Vote

Skopje, 14 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Voting has started in Macedonia's presidential election. Four candidates are vying to replace the late president, Boris Trajkovski, who died in an air crash in February.

The favorite is the current prime minister, Branko Crvenkovski. Running against him are Macedonian nationalist Sasko Kedev and two former ethnic Albanian rebel commanders, Gezim Ostreni and Zudi Xhelili.

The post of the president is mostly ceremonial in Macedonia. But the president does play an important diplomatic role.

About 300 international observers are to monitor voting. The winner must get at least 50 percent of the vote to avoid a second round run-off on 24 April.

With unemployment at 35 percent, correspondents say jobs are a top issue with voters.

Analysts say the vote is seen as key to maintaining a delicate balance between the country's Macedonian majority and its ethnic Albanian community. Trajkovski brokered a deal in 2001 to end a conflict between Macedonia's security forces and ethnic Albanian militants.