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Albanian MP’s murder may have been political

Tirana — Opposition socialists in Albania refused Sunday to rule out a political motive in the murder of one of their MPs, gunned down the night before.

An unidentified assassin shot 49-year-old Fatmir Xhindi late Saturday, not far from his home in Roskovec, 120 kilometres (70 miles) south of the capital Tirana.

Police said the gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon as Xhindi was leaving his car. The politician was taken to hospital in nearby Fieri, but died of his injuries, they added.

"This is a premeditated murder and justice should find those responsible for this very serious criminal act," said Socialist leader Edi Rama after visiting the scene of the crime.

Gramos Ruci, a high-ranking Socialist party official, said: "A possibility that political motives are behind Xhindi’s murder should not be excluded."

Socialist officials also condemned what they said was the lack of security and stability in Albania.

Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Sunday the murder was an "extremely grave incident, a criminal act which should be investigated and solved as soon as possible."

The European Commission also expressed its outrage at the murder.

"I firmly condemn the murder of Fatmir Xhindi and I call on the authorities to carry out a detailed inquiry and bring those guilty to justice," Enlargement Commissioner Olii Rehn said in a statement released in Brussels.

Police said they had questioned several people who had met with Xhindi in the run-up to his murder — and have offered a 250,000-euros (331,882-dollar) reward for any information on attackers.

Xhindi is the second MP to be assassinated in Albania since the fall of communism. The murder of right-wing lawmaker Azem Hajdari in September 1998 provoked riots across the country.

His assassination came just days after Albania submitted its application for European Union membership Tuesday — and less than two months ahead of the June 28 parliamentary election.

One of the key conditions for Albania to succeed in its EU membership bid is the holding of fair and democratic elections.

Last November parliament adopted a new electoral law aimed at preventing fraud.

But since the fall of communism in the early 1990s, all elections in Albania have been disputed and marred by incidents.

Albania, a predominantly Muslim nation of 3.6 million that remains one of Europe’s poorest countries, became a member of NATO in April.