Candidate shot at Albanian polling station

An Albanian political candidate was shot and a supporter of a rival party killed in an exchange of gunfire near a polling station, police said yesterday, as the country held elections already marred by a dispute that could leave the outcome up in the air.

Both conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha and his close rival, Socialist leader Edi Rama, have hopes for eventual entry to the European Union, and the election is seen as a test of whether the country can run a fair and safe vote. An EU diplomat condemned the violence.

There were few details, but a police spokesman said that Gjon Gjoni, 53, died after being shot in an exchange of fire with Mhill Fufi, 49, a candidate for Berisha’s governing Democratic Party. An opposition party leader identified Gjoni as a supporter.

Another man, Kastriot Fufi, was also injured. It was not immediately clear if he and the candidate were related.

The shooting in the city of Lac began with an row, said police spokesman Tefik Sulejmani, who gave few other details.

Once one of the world’s hard-line communist countries, the impoverished state has had a rocky road to democracy, plagued by corruption and elections marred by violence and vote-rigging.

The month-long contest had been relatively calm until election day, though there had been reports of civil servants and even schoolchildren being pressured to attend pro-government rallies.

Ilir Meta, the leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration, said the dead man was a supporter and directly blamed police and “criminal elements” of the ruling Democrats of exerting pressure at polling stations.

“Sali Berisha is not Albania’s premier any more. He cannot leave power without shedding blood,” said Meta.

The EU’s top diplomat in Albania took a hard stand on the violence.

“I want to say something very clear, very firm. Among the international and European standards for elections, there is the refusal of violence,” said Ettore Sequi, the EU ambassador to Tirana.

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