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Macedonia's Speaker Seeks Recognition To Install New Government


Macedonia's parliament speaker has asked the country's president to recognize a majority of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian members of parliament so they can form a new government.

Talat Xhaferi, who took over the speaker's office on May 3, urged President Gjorge Ivanov on May 4 to acknowledge the new majority bloc and allow Social Democratic Union leader Zoran Zaev to form a cabinet.

"I expect the president to act according to the constitution," Xhaferi said before heading to Brussels to meet with European Union officials, including Johannes Hahn, the commissioner in charge of EU enlargement.

Ivanov, an ally of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party that has ruled Macedonia for years, has 10 days to answer Xhaferi's request.

Ivanov has previously refused to give a government mandate to Zaev, contending the coalition's agreement to make Albanian the country's second language threatens national unity and sovereignty.

However, after speaking with a U.S. envoy on May 1, he suggested he might relent if Zaev provided reassurances that his coalition would work according to the constitution and uphold national sovereignty.

Zaev told reporters in Skopje on May 4 that "I am ready, if necessary, to see Ivanov and offer guarantees that the territorial integrity of Macedonia will be respected."

Zaev said that he expected his government to be established by the end of the month, possibly ushering in the end of a long-running political crisis.

Inconclusive parliamentary elections in December led to the current impasse. Though the VMRO-DPMNE got the most votes, it was not able to put together a ruling coalition.

But when Zaev's Social Democrats put together a majority coalition with ethnic Albanians, who make up about a quarter of the country's 2.1 million population, the VMRO-DPMNE and its nationalist supporters staged protests nearly every night calling for new elections.

The coalition's vote last week to install Xhaferi, a former ethnic Albanian guerrilla, as speaker prompted about 100 of the protesters to storm into parliament and assault Zaev and ethnic Albanian lawmakers in a melee that left more than 100 people injured.

The EU and United States strongly condemned the violence, moved to recognize Zaev's coalition as the legitimate majority bloc, and called on Ivanov to do the same.

Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015, when it fell into turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the VMRO-DPMNE's governing bloc.

Efforts to advance toward membership of the EU and NATO have been set back by the impasse.

The EU's foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, has called the violence in Macedonia "worrying" and "dangerous."

At her meeting with Xhaferi on May 4, Mogherini called on all sides to "engage constructively in the political process" and said she was ready to work with Xhaferi and other parties to end the political deadlock.

"The EU expects all political parties to engage constructively in the political process, including on government formation, and in the work of the new parliament," Mogherini said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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