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Macedonian Opposition Leader Urges New Elections, End To Name-Change Deal

Hristijan Mickoski, head of Macedonia's VMRO-DPMNE opposition party, has called for new elections.
Hristijan Mickoski, head of Macedonia's VMRO-DPMNE opposition party, has called for new elections.

The leader of Macedonia's opposition is urging the government to break off a deal to change the country’s name and to call early elections.

Hristijan Mickoski, head of the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, said a caretaker government should be installed until elections are held, which he said should happen in late November.

"Macedonia is entering a new political crisis. The solution is catastrophic and unacceptable both for VMRO-DPMNE and the majority of citizens. A new crisis will completely destroy the economy," he said.

Macedonians on September 30 voted 91.5 percent to back the deal to change the nation’s name to North Macedonia, a move that would help move the country toward eventual membership in the European Union and NATO.

However, the referendum did not attract the required 50 percent voter turnout for a valid result, finishing at 36.9 percent of the country’s 1.8 million eligible voters.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has vowed to keep pushing for a change to the Balkan nation’s name to end a decades-old dispute with neighboring Greece.

However, the ruling coalition does not have the two-thirds majority that would be needed to complete the necessary constitutional amendment.

President Gjorge Ivanov also has opposed the name change, saying the Macedonian people "clearly" rejected the accord with Greece.

The name dispute between Macedonia and Greece dates back to 1991, when Macedonia peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia.

Greece says the name Macedonia implies territorial and cultural claims on the northern Greek region of the same name.

Greece, an EU and NATO member, has cited the dispute to veto Macedonia's bids to join the two organizations.

In June, Athens and Skopje hammered out a tentative compromise to end decades of squabbling if Macedonia adopts the new name.

Nationalists in both countries have opposed the deal. In Macedonia, many say it would constitute a sacrifice of sovereignty, while in Greece, many say it would allow its neighbor to continue to use the historic Macedonia name.

Macedonia’s economy is sputtering after a two-year financial crisis that pushed unemployment above 20 percent, one of the highest rates in the Balkans, and an average monthly net salary of about $400, the lowest in the region.

Analysts say further integrating Western Balkan countries such as Macedonia into European and transatlantic structures is the best way to ensure the stability and development of a region still healing from the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, IBNA AFP, BBC, dpa, and Balkan Insight
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