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Albania starts counting results in election marred by killing

Vote counting has begun a day after Albania's general election, which was marred by gunfire at a polling station which left one man dead and two others wounded.

Initial returns indicated a narrow lead for the opposition Socialist Party-led coalition of Edi Rama, who is running against Prime Minister Sali Berisha of the Democratic party.

Both men claimed victory after polls closed Sunday evening.

Turnout was 53 percent of some 3.3 million registered voters, according to preliminary estimates by the country's Central Election Commission, in the eighth national polls since the fall of communism in 1990.

Official results were not expected to be announced earlier than Tuesday.

A police spokesman said Gjon Gjoni, 49, died after being shot in an exchange of fire that also wounded Mhill Fufi, 49, a candidate for Berisha's governing Democratic Party, and a relative of Fufi.

The violence drew condemnation from an EU official.

"Violence is simply not acceptable and cannot be tolerated," Ettore Sequi, the EU ambassador to Tirana, told Associated Press television.

Berisha and Rama have both expressed the hope that Albania can gain entry to the EU, and Sunday's election was seen as a test of whether the country can run a fair and safe election.

"These elections are a crucial test for the democratic maturity of the country a test for the smooth functioning of the Albanian institutions," Sequi said.

Preliminary findings of some 400 international observers were expected later Monday.

Although the election campaign was highly acrimonious, it was generally considered peaceful.

In 2009, three people were killed in politically motivated attacks during the campaign. They Socialists boycotted the parliament for a long time in protest to what it called manipulation from the governing Democrats.

Albania, now a NATO member despite a rocky road to democracy, has been denied EU candidate status twice since 2009 because of criticism that it has not done enough to fight corruption and proceed with democratic reforms that include its ability to hold elections that comply with international and European standards.

Last month, parliament held an extraordinary session to pass the last three laws in a series of 12 key recommendations required by the EU as part of the country's quest for eventual membership.

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Associated Press writer Nebi Qena in Tirana contributed to this report.