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Premier wins third term in election

Macedonia's conservative coalition government has claimed victory in early general elections, and the opposition conceded defeat.

Prime minister Nikola Gruevski called the election a year before the end of his four-year term, following the opposition's walkout from the legislature.

It was sparked by the jailing of a popular television channel's boss and the freezing of his bank accounts.

Mr Gruevski was in line to be re-elected for a third term, according to preliminary results, and he declared victory at his party's headquarters. "With pleasure I can announce that the winner of these elections is VMRO-DPMNE and the Coalition For a better Macedonia. We have won 55 seats in the Parliament," which has 123 seats, Mr Gruevski told reporters.

"The majority of people have recognised that in Macedonia a change happened in 2006 when a group of young politicians came to power," Mr Gruevski said.

He added that his government's priorities will remain the economy, agriculture, investments, the fight against corruption, preserving good relations among ethnic groups and joining the EU and Nato.

According to preliminary results posted on the official site of the electoral commission, votes from 81.77% of polling stations give the ruling VMRO-DPMNE conservative party the edge over the opposition Social Democrats, with 39.31% to 32.71%.

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a partner in the ruling conservative coalition, has 10.52%, beating its political rival, the Democratic Party of Albanians, which has 5.46%.

VMRO-DPMNE senior official Vlatko Gjorcev said the Social Democrats had obtained 39 seats, but unofficial projections from election monitors give them as many as 43, in any case a significant increase from 18 in the outgoing parliament.

"You see what we have done with 18 lawmakers, and you can imagine what we could do now with more than 40 seats," Social Democrat leader Branko Crvenkovski said. He conceded defeat and congratulated the VMRO-DPMNE on its victory.

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