Albania's Berisha Concedes Defeat

TIRANA, Albania -- Albanian President Sali Berisha conceded Monday that his Democratic Party had lost a general election on the weekend that was endorsed by international observers as "adequate and acceptable."

But Berisha kept Albanians guessing on whether the defeat meant he would resign.

His brief statement on state television, before official results had been declared, appeared to confirm that the Socialist Party swept to victory in the poll, called to restore order after months of unrest.

"Albanian voters yesterday seemingly voted that the Democratic Party should be in opposition. On this occasion I would like to express my deepest gratitude to those hundreds and thousands of Albanians ... who supported the Democratic Party," Berisha said.

"I invite all these electors, all the members, activists, sympathizers of the Democratic Party to treat yesterday's verdict with courage and dignity."

Catherine Lalumiere, the top official observing the election under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the vote had showed Albanians' desire for a democratic future "despite minor flaws in many areas and some very serious problems in a few areas."

"We believe therefore that we can say that the elections can be considered as adequate and acceptable," she said.

The OSCE, together with the Council of Europe and a 100-strong delegation from the United States, monitored Sunday's first round of the election. Runoffs will be held next Sunday in constituencies where no candidate won outright.

Berisha said he would respect all the commitments he made before and during the hard-fought campaign, but it was unclear whether that meant he would step down. Many Albanians believe it is only a matter of time before he goes.

In the country's chaotic south, focal point of the unrest, Berisha's announcement was greeted with celebratory gunfire, but correspondents in the region reported no serious incidents.

Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano claimed a sweeping victory a few hours after polls closed Sunday evening. The party says it and its leftist coalition partners have won almost two-thirds of the seats in the 155-seat parliament.

A two-thirds majority would be enough to remove a head of state by parliamentary vote. Berisha, president since 1992 when the Democrats swept to power, has hinted on several occasions that he would quit if a leftist government came to power.

Nano, who was holding a news conference as the president spoke, suggested there might be changes at the top.

Released in March after three years in jail following a suspect trial, Nano said Albania should work toward altering political institutions "... even to renew the institution of president in the most peaceful way without permitting a vacuum."