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Early vote count gives Albania's ruling party lead

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania’s ruling coalition had five more seats than the opposition coalition on Tuesday with more than two thirds of the votes counted in elections which international monitors said did not fully meet standards.

Ballot counting slowed down overnight and the main opposition Socialist Party of Edi Rama traded accusations of intimidation at voting centres with Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party.

The International Election Observation Mission said the elections showed improvements over previous votes, but Albania needed to do more to meet standards.

The European Union and the United States view the ballot as a test of Albania’s readiness for integration with Europe. The EU’s Swedish presidency will review Albania’s candidate status in light of the monitors’ final poll report.

One representative of a small party said votes were being stolen. “My wife’s and my own vote do not show up in the vote records,” said Gilman Bakalli, a former Democrat MP running for the Pole of Liberty Party.

“The votes of my staff and parents have also been lost.”

Berisha’s Democrat-led coalition had 71 seats while the opposition Socialist-led coalition had 66 seats after 73.65 percent of votes had been counted. The Socialist Integration coalition had three seats.

The Socialists had 40.90 percent of the vote while the Democrats 39.97 percent. The numbers of seats won will be recalculated once all votes are counted based on the regional proportional system, which is being applied for the first time.

“If the count goes on at this rate, we think the all the ballots will be counted by midday (11 a.m. British time), except for two counting centres, unless the process is blocked,” Central Election Commission (CEC) spokesman Leonard Olli said.

Albania signed an association deal with the European Union in June 2006 and applied for candidate status in April 2009. Unlike the United States, which threw its weight behind Albania’s NATO entry, the EU says Albania needs a series of reforms.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, the EU official in charge of accession talks with Albania, said on Monday the country must do better in staging future elections, citing campaign violence and procedural violations.

Editing by Louise Ireland