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Macedonian Opposition Claims Coalition Deal With Ethnic Albanians

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev (left) meets with President Gjorge Ivanov on February 27.

Macedonia's opposition Social Democratic Union (SDSM) leader has submitted signatures of support from three ethnic Albanian political parties to President Gjorge Ivanov, saying he has secured enough support in parliament to form a government.

Zoran Zaev, whose left-wing coalition secured 49 parliamentary seats in December's elections, announced on February 27 that he had obtained 18 signatures of support from lawmakers from three ethnic Albanian parties.

That support would give him enough to form a 67-seat majority coalition in the 120-member parliament.

"The signatures allow the crisis to end in Macedonia and the country finally to move forward," Zaev said in Skopje on February 27, adding that he expected a "peaceful and quick transfer of power."

But although Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party agreed to give Zaev its signatures of support, the party said it had not determined whether it would join any new coalition formed by Zaev.

Macedonia has been waiting for a new government since general elections in December.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party won that vote and received 51 seats in parliament, but that was not enough secure a parliamentary majority.

Since then, Gruevski has been unable through coalition talks to gather the support of the 10 other lawmakers he needs to form a government.

Talks between Gruevski and the main ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), failed when Gruevski refused to accept the BDI's demand for Albanian to be declared a second official language in Macedonia.

About a quarter of Macedonia's population of 2.1 million people are ethnic Albanians.

On February 27, Zaev said he expected President Ivanov to give him the mandate to form a new government in accordance with Macedonia's constitution.

Once Zaev receives that mandate from Ivanov, he will have 20 days to form a government that is approved by at least 61 parliamentary deputies.

Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party said in a statement on February 26 that it could support Zaev's bid to form a government -- provided that Zaev does not agree to the demands for Albanian to become a second official language.

But after Zaev's announcement on support from all three ethnic Albanian parties, Gruevski on February 27 called on his nationalist supporters to launch protests against Zaev and block him from forming a government.

Gruevski said the deal Zaev had made with ethnic Albanian parties was a threat to Macedonia.

The VMRO-DPMNE has said it will use all legal means to prevent Macedonia from becoming officially bilingual.

It has said such a development would mean a "redefinition of the unitary character" of the country.

Macedonia narrowly avoided civil war in 2001 after an uprising by armed ethnic Albanians who sought greater rights.

With reporting by AP and dpa
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