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Macedonia conservatives win snap poll

Macedonia's conservative prime minister has won a general election in the Balkan country, but he will need to form a coalition to govern for another four-year term, according to final results released Monday by the State Electoral Commission.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski called the election a year early, following an opposition walkout in Parliament sparked by the jailing of a popular TV channel boss for alleged fraud.

A new government in this country of 2.1 million people will have to deal with a weak economy, a bitter name dispute with neighboring Greece, and ongoing tensions with the ethnic Albanian minority that makes up roughly a quarter of the population.

Currently, unemployment stands at a staggering 32 percent in a country with an average monthly salary of wage of euro320 ($466).

According to Monday's final results, Gruevski's VMRO DPMNE party won with 39 percent of the vote. The main rival Social Democrats, led by former prime minister and president Branko Crvenkovski, garnered 32.7 percent and conceded defeat.

The conservatives' previous coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian DUI party, got 10.2 percent, easily defeating its main ethnic minority rival, the DPA, which got 5.9 percent.

Turnout was 63.4 percent.

Biljana Vankovska, a prominent political analyst, told The Associated Press that if Gruevski manages as expected to form another coalition government, he will probably maintain his uncompromising style of leadership.

"I am a little worried now that Gruevski has secured the third mandate. His VMRO was reluctant to listen to different ideas and proposals. Now I fear they will slide toward autocracy," she said.

The political crisis leading to the election was sparked by an opposition walkout from the country's 120-seat Parliament, claiming that the crackdown on the private A1 television station in January and the arrest of its media magnate, Velija Ramkovski, were politically motivated. Authorities insisted they are investigating tax fraud.

Ramkovski's arrest led to protests in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, and weeks of A1 TV broadcasting its news bulletins from the street outside government buildings.

Vankovska said the election result suggests Macedonia has become increasingly polarized, with conservative splinter parties getting wiped out.

She said Gruevski would likely rejoin DUI, its previous coalition partner led by Ali Ahmeti, a rebel commander in a 2001 ethnic Albania insurgency.

"Small parties in the rightist camp are the real losers of these elections. Many of them, like former Macedonian Interior Minister and Hague Tribunal convict Ljube Boskoski, failed to secure even one seat in Parliament and probably will be politically retired," Vankovska said.

Macedonia has had a turbulent history since the former state of Yugoslavia declared independence in 1991.

A civil war fought between the government and ethnic Albanian insurgents in 2001 ended with the intervention of a NATO cease-fire monitoring force. Macedonia's government agreed to devolve greater political power and cultural recognition to the Albanian minority. The ethnic Albanian side agreed to abandon separatist demands and to fully recognize all Macedonian institutions.

Macedonia also has been at odds with Greece over the former Yugoslav republic's name since it gained independence. Greece's government says use of the name implies territorial claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia. Skopje denies that. But earlier this year, NATO-member Greece blocked Macedonia's bid to join the alliance over the dispute.