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Macedonian Parliament Approves New Government Headed By Socialist Zaev

  • RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Macedonia's parliament has elected a new center-left coalition government led by former opposition leader Zoran Zaev, ending a six-month political stalemate.

Lawmakers voted 62-44 just before midnight on May 31 to confirm a 26-member cabinet proposed by Zaev, who leads the Social Democrat Union. Five lawmakers abstained and nine were absent.

Zaev was sworn in as prime minister by the parliament speaker immediately after the vote.

Zaev promised his government would step up economic reforms and speed up the country's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

With his ascendance, the 11-year rule of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party comes to an end.

VMRO-DPMNE followers have been unhappy with the governing coalition's appointment of ethnic Albanians to be speaker of parliament as well as to serve in nine cabinet posts.

Zaev formed an alliance with two small ethnic Albanian parties to control 62 of parliament's 120 seats after his party finished second in December elections that produced a hung parliament.

About a third of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian, and ethnic tensions brought the former Yugoslav republic close to civil war in 2001.

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, congratulated Zaev and said the United States stood ready to help the country carry out reforms that strengthen the rule of law, judicial independence, media freedom, and government accountability.

The European Union also welcomed the move. "The EU is ready to support the work that the new government, as well as the opposition, will do to constructively implement all parts of the Przino agreement and the Urgent Reform Priorities," EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement, referring to an accord among Macedonian leaders brokered by the EU last year.

"This is also essential to bring the country back on its European integration path, a process that the citizens clearly want and deserve," Mogherini said.

In a statement, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he spoke with Zaev and congratulated him.

"We agreed on the importance of addressing urgently needed reforms, including on good governance and the rule of law," Stoltenberg said, adding that such reforms will benefit all citizens of Macedonia and will "further advance the country’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations."

In a separate development, authorities in Macedonia said the health minister in the outgoing government, Nikola Todorov, was shot at on June 1 outside the ministry as he headed there to hand over the post to the new minister.

The Interior Ministry said the gunman targeted Todorov -- a member of the VMRO-DPMNE party -- who escaped unharmed. The suspected assailant was detained on the spot.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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