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Macedonia Passes Law Boosting Albanian Language Status

Several hundred protesters rallied against the law outside parliament, but the demonstration passed without incident.

Macedonia's parliament has passed a law extending the official use of the Albanian language, despite protests from the right-wing opposition who say the decision will put the Balkan country's national unity in jeopardy.

Sixty-four lawmakers in the 120-member parliament voted to adopt the law on March 14, without a debate requested by the opposition.

Lawmakers from the right-wing opposition party, the VMRO-DPMNE, staged protests against the measure -- which had already been passed in January, but was again put up for a vote after conservative President Gjorge Ivanov vetoed it.

The president must now sign it into law following the new vote.

Outside the parliament building, several hundred protesters demonstrated against the law, but the protests passed without incident.

Macedonian is the primary official language, but ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of Macedonia's two million people.

Albanian has until now been an official language only in areas where the minority makes up at least 20 percent of the population.

The new law will boost the use of Albanian at a national level, including in administrative, health, judicial, police, and other official matters.

It can also be used in parliament by the ethnic Albanians' elected representatives.

The adoption of the law was a demand of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian parties before they agreed to join a ruling coalition with the Social Democrats last year.

Ethnic Albanian rebels waged an insurgency against Macedonian authorities in 2001. More than 100 people were killed in the insurgency, which ended with an agreement providing greater rights for the minority.

With reporting by AP and AFP