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SKOPJE -- A Macedonian official says Skopje has a good chance to be included in the South Stream natural-gas pipeline project either as a transit country or in the construction of a side route, RFE/RL's Balkan Service reports.

Macedonian Finance Minister Zoran Stavrevski said after talks with a delegation from Russian gas-giant Gazprom in Skopje on October 1 that participation in the pipeline project would "secure long term stabilty in gas supply, which is a clean energy source. It is of crucial importance for the country's economic development...[and would strengthen] foreign investment."

The South Stream is a gas pipeline project that would transport Russian gas to the Black Sea and onto Bulgaria, where it would continue on to Italy and Austria.

But Stavreski said construction of the pipeline through Macedonia is the less likely option because neighbors Albania and Kosovo would have to become part of the project.

Gazprom Project Director Leonid Chungov said "technical preparations" for deciding on Macedonia's role in South Stream require at least one year, after which it will be possible to say whether the gas pipeline will go through Macedonia.

"We have come to a joint conclusion that, due to to the rising gas demand, we need to consider the option of the gas pipeline transiting Macedonia," Chungov said.

Western countries are promoting the construction of the Nabucco pipeline from Turkey to Western Europe instead of the Russian-led South Stream pipeline, which would compete with Nabucco and which western countries see as giving Moscow greater control over energy sources to Europe.

Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, and Greece have formally agreed to participate in South Stream, which is due to be completed by 2015.
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