Sunday, May 11, 2008

Macedonia Looks to Early Election After NATO Snub

The party of Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said on Wednesday it had agreed to hold an early parliamentary election, after Greece last week blocked the country's bid to join NATO.

A session of parliament was called for Thursday to discuss the initiative, originally tabled by the main ethnic Albanian opposition party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI).

Parliament has to first vote to dissolve itself for the country to hold early elections, which must then follow within two months.

The end of Gruevski's ruling coalition, less than two years since it took power, would spell a fresh period of political uncertainty in the Balkan republic. It borders newly independent Kosovo, and was rescued from all-out ethnic civil war in 2001 by NATO and European Union mediation.

"Considering developments in the dispute Greece has with us, our Euro-Atlantic integration, the inefficiency of parliament and events in Bucharest, right now there is no better solution than for the nation to hold early elections," Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki of the VMRO-DPMNE told reporters.

"There will be a new mandate, and greater capacity to carry out reforms for faster Euro-Atlantic integration," he said.


Greece blocked an invitation at NATO's Bucharest summit last week for Macedonia to join the alliance in a dispute over the country's name, which is the same as that of Greece's northern province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

The two have been unable to agree on a name change since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

The VMRO-DPMNE executive committee said it had accepted the DUI initiative to hold an early parliamentary election, which would likely be held in June.

Anti-Greek feelings are riding high, and analysts say the conservative VMRO-DPMNE hopes to capitalise on the nationalist sentiment and secure a new, stronger four-year mandate.

Gruevski's main coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Albanians, indicated it would support dissolving parliament.

Albanians form a 25 percent minority in the country of 2 million people.

They were offered greater rights and representation under a 2001 peace accord, brokered by the West to end a six-month ethnic Albanian insurgency that followed Kosovo's 1999 ethnic Albanian guerrilla war for independence.

But the country continues to suffer from high unemployment and lack of economic development that has fuelled fears of renewed ethnic tension.

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