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Albania's local elections seen as a test for democratic values

Local elections are taking place in Albania and are being seen as proof of its democratic credentials. Polls in the country, which wants to join the EU, have been marred by scandal until now.

Citizens in the Balkan country of Albania cast their votes in local elections on Sunday that are being seen as a test of whether the country could stick to democratic values. Around 3.3 million Albanians were eligible to elect mayors and councilors in 61 municipalities.

The vote in the EU candidate country was being closely watched by nearly 44 European Union (EU) observers and 5000 local monitors. Around 6000 policemen were deployed to ensure security.

"More than the results, the importance of these elections are the values of democracy which must triumph, parliamentary speaker Ilir Meta told news agency AFP. The elections would also be a test for the ruling Socialist-led coalition that has governed the country since 2013.

Opposition leader Lulzim Basha, the capital Tirana's mayor, said the vote was a "popular referendum against the ruling majority" and warned that they could be "fake and rigged."

Albania became an EU candidate a year ago and needs to prove its eligibility for being part of the economic and political bloc. "The June 21 election test, almost a year after getting the country's candidate status, should serve as our main investment in launching the membership negotiations with the European Union," President Bujar Nishani said in a statement on Friday.

Sunday's elections are Albania's seventh since the fall of communism in 1990. 14.3 percent of its population lives below the poverty line and a similar number of citizens are unemployed.

mg/bw (AFP, AP)

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