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Europe

Finalists Emerge in Closely Watched Macedonian Poll

Candidates from Macedonia's conservative and leftist parties will enter a runoff presidential election after an initial round of voting, which met most international standards, according to European election watchdogs.

Workers distribute electoral material to a polling station in Skopje, Macedonia

The elections were well administered and free of violent incidents, the OSCE said

The election has been regarded as a crucial step for Macedonia's hopes of joining the European Union and NATO.

International law professor Gjorgje Ivanov has emerged as clear favorite to win Macedonia's presidency, after a first round of elections was held on Sunday, March 22.

Ivanov waves in front of microphones

Ivanov takes a large lead into the presidential runoff election

"These elections represent an important step for Macedonia towards the European Union," Ivanov said, calling the elections fair and democratic. "We have shown through our actions that there are European values in Macedonia, that people are living the European dream and that Macedonia deserves to be a member of the EU and NATO."

Ivanov is the candidate of the governing conservative VMRO-DPMNE party. With tallies in from 94.84 percent of polling stations on Monday, the election commission said he's ahead with 35.06 percent of the vote, followed by Social Democrat SDSM party candidate Ljubomir Frckoski with 20.45 percent.

Trailing them was independent candidate Ljube Boskoski and ethnic Albanian leader Imer Selmani, both with around 15 percent, said the election commission, which estimated turnout to be about 57 percent of almost 1.8 million potential voters.

OSCE: Elections generally well-managed

European election observers said on Monday that the polls were conducted in accordance with most international standards, though they added some hurdles to completely free and fair elections remain.

Children wave national and EU flags during the central rally of the opposition Social Democrats

The election was seen as a test of Macedonia's readiness to join the EU

"The elections were well-administered and free of the violent incidents that clouded last year's parliamentary elections," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement. "Election day was peaceful and the voting process was generally well-managed, although there were procedural irregularities and the counting process was assessed less positively."

International observers were appalled by violence during the 2008 parliamentary elections. Gun battles left one person was killed and several were wounded.

Macedonia became an official candidate for accession to the EU four years ago but has not yet started membership talks. Its aspirations to join the NATO military alliance have, meanwhile, been torpedoed by an ongoing name dispute with Greece.

Ethnic tensions linger in Macedonia eight years after the country averted a civil war between its Macedonian majority and ethnic Albanian minority, who account for 64 percent and 25 percent of its 2.2 million population, respectively. The 2001 conflict ended with the minority receiving more control over local affairs.

Officially, Macedonia goes by the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in international and diplomatic terms.

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