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Albanian PM Hails Local Elections, Observers Disagree

A man votes in Tirana on February 18 (OSCE) February 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha today hailed the February 18 local elections as the country's "first great victory of free and fair elections," while International monitors expressed disappointment, saying the country missed a chance to show its commitment to democracy.

Jorgen Grunnet, who headed the long-term observation mission sent by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, called the elections "somewhat disappointing" and said they were a "missed opportunity" for Albania.

The mission said election day was generally calm, but that voting was marred by procedural shortcomings.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said shortcomings in the preparation and conduct of the elections show the need for better cooperation among political parties.

The vote for local mayors passed peacefully in what was seen as a test of Albania's democratic progress as it bids for EU and NATO membership.

Preliminary unofficial results show the opposition Socialist Party ahead.

(with material from Reuters, AFP)