One dead, 8 injured during Macedonia voting

SKOPJE -- An ethnic Albanian is dead after a shootout with police at a polling station in Macedonia, it has been confirmed.

Signs &No Guns& and &No violence& are taped on voting booths (Beta)
Signs "No Guns" and "No violence" are taped on voting booths (Beta)

The man, identified as Naser Aivazi, 40, opened fire at police officers this morning in the village of Aracinovo near Skopje, Macedonia's MUP says. Naivazi is said to have been a Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) supporter.

At least five others were injured during the incident, none of them police officers, spokesman Ivo Kotevski told a news conference in the Macedonian capital today. A total of eight wounded and nine detained has also been reported.

The shootout was only one of a series of incidents that took place this morning as polls opened in the early parliamentary elections, including the wounding of a man at a polling station in Skopje, when firearms were also used.

Earlier, Macedonian police said the deadly exchage of fire took place as ethnic Albanians confronted a special police unit, after an Albanian attempted to vote on behalf of several other persons.

When the officials organizing the ballot explained this was not possible, he produced a pistol, and was joined by several other armed men.

"When police intervened, the group left the polling station, to start shooting at officers, and this is when one person was injured, and taken to hospital," police spokesman Ivo Kotevski told Beta news agency this morning.

Voting was interrupted in several other places because armed men appeared there as well, breaking up ballot boxes and stealing the material necessary to organize elections.

Some polls remained closed all morning, the agency said.

Away from the voting booths, police found cars packed with weapons near Krušino itself, and near the village of Aracinovo.

State election committee chief Zoran Tanevski confirmed that most of the incidents this morning happened in the Albanian-inhabited areas.

In the village of Malino, near Kosovo, a ballot box was stolen, while in another one near Tetovo, an armed group entered the polling stations after which the voting was suspended.

In the Gostivar area of Cifik, unknown perpetrators tried to fill the boxes with the ballot papers, Tanevski said.

Meanwhile, two rival ethnic Albanian parties, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) traded accusations over the attacks and incidents.

It is in this atmosphere that 1,779,116 Macedonian voters can cast their ballots today, choosing between 18 parliamentary tickets competing for the nation's parliament, or Sobranie, and the 120 seats there.

Polling stations close at 19:00 CET, with voting monitored by some 2,000 local and more than 460 foreign observers.