An elderly woman casting her ballot today in Tirana (epa)
February 18, 2007 -- Albanians voted in local elections today that are considered an important step in the country's efforts to join the European Union and NATO.
About 2.9 million registered voters in the country of 4.2 million people will elect officials to local offices in 384 urban and rural communities.
An estimated 20 percent of eligible voters had turned out by noon, according to a group of independent Albanian observers.
More than 1,000 candidates are competing for seats in the vote, pitting Democratic Prime Minister Sali Berisha's 10-party governing coalition and Tirana Mayor Edi Rama's five-party opposition grouping.