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U.S. Envoy Urges Macedonian Leaders To Allow New Government To Form

U.S. Envoy Calls For New Macedonian Government
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WATCH: U.S. Envoy Calls For New Macedonian Government

A high-level U.S. envoy met with Macedonian leaders on May 1 and urged them to allow a newly formed parliamentary majority made up of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties to form a new government.

Nearly five months after parliamentary elections, Macedonian nationalists opposed to the inclusion of ethnic Albanians are blocking efforts by the new government to take office, triggering a major political crisis in the tiny Balkan country.

"We feel that it is very important for the leaders to find a way to allow the majority in propose a government and a government program," U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Hoyt Yee said in Skopje after meeting with leaders on both sides in the impasse.

"We understand there are concerns about the composition of the government program and, like in all European democracies, we believe that whatever is proposed by the majority should be considered seriously in parliament, debated in parliament, and voted in parliament," he said.

President Gjorge Ivanov, an ally* of the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, which has ruled Macedonia for years, has refused to give a mandate to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev to form a government, saying his coalition with ethnic Albanian parties threatens the sovereignty of the state.

After meeting with Yee, Ivanov issued a statement on May 1 calling on Zaev to provide reassurances that his coalition would work according to the constitution and uphold national unity.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Hoyt Brian Yee (left) met in Skopje with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov (right).
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Hoyt Brian Yee (left) met in Skopje with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov (right).

Zaev had no immediate response. After meeting earlier in the day with Yee, the Socialist leader had vowed to begin putting together a new cabinet following his coalition's election last week of a new speaker of parliament.

The naming of Macedonia's first ethnic Albanian parliament speaker, Talat Xhaferi, on April 27 had prompted about 100 protesters to storm the parliament building and beat up Zaev and his fellow coalition leaders, most of them ethnic Albanians.

The protesters and VMRO leaders charged that the speaker's election was not legal because it allegedly did not follow parliamentary rules.

But Zaev -- with U.S. backing -- dismissed their objections on May 1, saying "the new speaker was elected legally and legitimately." He vowed to quickly put in place a new cabinet.

Meanwhile, Macedonia's Interior Ministry on April 30 made the first arrests of six people it said were involved in last week's violence in parliament, which had bloodied Zaev's face and injured over 100 people.

The ministry said it had filed criminal charges against 15 people in all who are considered to be instigators of the violence, charging them with "participation in a mob and preventing officials from performing their duties."

The ministry said the police who were charged with protecting parliament did not move quickly enough to stop the violence and appeared to be acting in the interests of the VMRO.

The mob attack was led by masked individuals, some of whom were armed, and videos made at the scene showed they appeared to outnumber the parliament's security force.

Macedonia's political crisis intensified after December elections failed to produce a resounding majority for any party. The VMRO won a narrow majority but was unable to put together a ruling coalition in the months following the election.

That led to Zaev putting together a first-time majority coalition between the Social Democrats and two parties representing ethnic Albanians, who make up about one-third of Macedonia's 2.1 million population.

The deal envisages a law allowing wider use of the Albanian language, an agreement that provoked a nationalist backlash and led to daily street protests by nationalists and VMRO sympathizers.

Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015, when it sank into political turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the ruling VMRO party.

The political stalemate has brought to a halt Skopje's efforts to move toward membership in the European Union and NATO.

EU leaders have joined the United States in urging Macedonian leaders to end the political stalemate so the country can resume its path toward membership.

* CORRECTION: This story has been amended from an earlier version to note that President Ivanov is an ally of the VMRO-DPMNE​ rather than a member of that party.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, and Reuters
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