Albanian PM's coalition ally switches sides ahead of polls

TIRANA Wed Apr 3, 2013 5:18pm EDT

Albania's Prime Minister Sali Berisha addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, June 25, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Albania's Prime Minister Sali Berisha addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, June 25, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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TIRANA (Reuters) - The junior partner in Albania's ruling coalition pulled out of government on Wednesday and allied itself with the opposition Socialist Party ahead of parliamentary elections on June 23.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha promptly named three ministers to replace those who left his cabinet when their Socialist Integration Movement (SIM) withdrew from government and said he was confident parliament would approve his nominees on Thursday.

Berisha's entered a coalition with the leftist SIM after 2009 polls in which his centre-right Democrats won just half of the 140 seats.

But SIM leader Ilir Meta strongly hinted his party's four members of parliament would not seek to remove Berisha, saying he expected change to come through the popular vote in June.

Albania has been denied European Union candidate status because of its failure to pass the necessary legislation. Meta said his party and the Socialists would pass the package of laws before parliament disbands to achieve EU candidate status this year.

Albania is under pressure from both the United States and the European Union to hold free and fair elections this year as a condition for advancing its EU bid. Its economy has avoided recession but its gross domestic product grew last year by just 1.6 percent, its lowest level for 16 years.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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