Sunday, July 27, 2008

Macedonian lawmakers approve new pro-EU government

Macedonia's parliament approved Saturday a new government presented by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who has promised to speed up reforms needed for the Balkan country to join the European Union.

All of the 78 lawmakers present late Saturday voted in favour of the new government, more than one month after Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party won a landslide in June 1 elections.

Despite having an absolute majority in the 120-seat parliament, VMRO-DPMNE has formed a coalition government with the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), one of two main parties representing Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, who comprise about one quarter of its two million population.

Lawmakers from the other main Albanian party, the Democratic Party for Albanians (DPA), and the opposition Social Democratic Union were not present during Saturday's vote, as they are boycotting all parliamentary activity.

The Social Democratic Union began their boycott 10 days ago over the arrest of one of its vice-presidents, Zoran Zaev, over alleged links to organised crime, saying the accusations were "politically motivated".

And the DPA has also refused to take part because it questions the poll results in Albanian-majority regions, where clashes between DUI and DPA activists on polling day left one person dead and forced a partial recount.

The VMRO-DPMNE won 63 seats in the elections, the Social Democratic Union 27, DUI won 18 and DPA 11. One seat went to a small pro-European party.

Gruevski had been under pressure to form a coalition with the DUI whose exclusion from the previous government, even though it garnered more votes than the DPA in 2006 elections, caused political and ethnic tensions.

"We will work day and night to become a member of the European Union and NATO," Gruevski told lawmakers as he presented his 25-member government for approval Saturday.

"But if Greece decides... to close the doors to those hoped for goals, we will work on a strategy for stability and for democratic and economic development even in those circumstances," he said.

Antonio Milososki (VMRO-DPMNE) will be foreign minister in the new cabinet, while Zoran Konjanovski, also VMRO-DPMNE, will take over the defence portfolio.

Although it has been an EU candidate since 2005, Macedonia has struggled on its road to integration into the 27-nation bloc because of political instability, ethnic tensions and corruption.

Its bid to enter NATO has been blocked by Greece, which vetoed its invitation into the alliance in April due to a 17-year dispute with Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia -- also the name of a region in northern Greece.

Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the temporary name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and UN-mediated talks between Skopje and Athens have so far failed to resolve the dispute.

Gruevski said he hoped to achieve economic growth of at least six percent, and promised to work to attract more foreign investment and to modernise the country's infrastructure.

He also pledged to fight corruption and organised crime, and improve inter-ethnic relations.

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