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NATO Warns Macedonia Over Pre-election Violence

BRUSSELS (AP)--NATO Tuesday warned Macedonia's political parties to contain a spate of violent incidents before next week's parliamentary elections or risk delays in the Balkan country's ambitions to join the military alliance. 

"It is tarnishing Macedonia's image internationally," alliance spokesman James Appathurai said. "It is not good for regional security and it is not helping Macedonia's attempts to move closer to NATO." 

More than two dozen violent incidents have been reported in the run up to the July 5 election, mostly between supporters of rival ethnic Albanian parties in Albanian minority-dominated areas. 

Macedonia, along with neighboring Albania and Croatia, is hoping to join NATO when the alliance next takes on new members, probably in 2008. 

"One of the standards of NATO membership is being able to carry out elections which are free and fair and free of violence," Appathurai told reporters. "This level of low level, ongoing violence...(is) not helpful to Macedonia's bid to join NATO." 

He called on all parties in the country to take "concrete active steps now to make sure that the violence is brought to an end." 

NATO and E.U. officials see the elections as a key test of Macedonian ambitions of joining both organizations after local elections in March last year were marred by irregularities. NATO intervention in 2001 helped prevent ethnic conflict developing into full-scale civil war in Macedonia, a country of 2 million people - nearly a third of whom are ethnic Albanians. 

June 27, 2006 06:15 ET (10:15 GMT)

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