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Posts tagged ‘Lone Land of Macedonia’

Macedonia local elections to test new left-wing government

October 13, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s left-wing government faces a strong test in this weekend’s municipal elections, five months after it came to power during an acute political crisis following a decade of conservative rule.

The first round of the vote is scheduled for Sunday, with over 1.8 million registered voters choosing local officials in the capital, Skopje, and another 80 municipalities. The re-run is on Oct. 29. Opinion polls show a slight advantage for the governing Social Democrats, particularly in the capital, Skopje, where the party’s candidate mayor is 2.6 percent ahead of the conservative incumbent.

The conservative VMRO-DPMNE main opposition party is seeking to defend its dominance on a local level. It won 56 of 81 municipalities in the last elections in 2013 against the Social Democrats’ four. Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has sought to get Macedonia to join NATO and the European Union, and to see through criminal investigations into conservative officials over a 2015 wiretapping scandal.

Zaev has urged voters to “free the country from the remnants of the VMRO-DPMNE criminal regime.” Zaev’s ascent followed a protracted political crisis triggered by the wiretaps, for which he blamed the then-ruling conservatives. They denied wrongdoing and blamed unspecified foreign spies.

On the streets of Skopje, many voters seem disenchanted with politics. “After every election, I’m poorer and more miserable. It is just a show for politicians and their greed for more power and money,” 36-year-old dentistry technician Dijana Stojanovska told the Associated Press.

VMRO-DPMNE campaigning has focused on what it calls “national issues,” claiming that the Social Democrats plan to change the country’s name — over which Macedonia has a decades-long dispute with southern neighbor Greece — to join NATO and the EU.

VMRO-DPMNE also accuses Zaev’s government of treason, for proposing to make Albanian Macedonia’s second official language, and signing a friendship pact with neighboring Bulgaria. Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia’s 2.1-million population, and ethnic tensions boiled over in 2001 when an ethnic Albanian uprising brought the country to the brink of civil war.

The local elections were delayed for five months due to a new crisis after VMRO DPMNE came first in parliamentary elections last year but was unable to secure a governing majority. Second-placed Zaev was eventually able to form a coalition with the ethnic Albanian DUI party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has over 300 observers to monitor the voting. Preliminary results are expected Monday.

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Macedonia’s Zaev wins confidence vote to form new government

June 01, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s parliament elected a new center-left coalition government led by former opposition leader Zoran Zaev late Wednesday, ending a six-month political stalemate. Lawmakers voted 62-44 just before midnight to confirm a 26-member Cabinet proposed by Zaev, who leads the Social Democrat party. Five lawmakers abstained and nine were absent.

Zaev, 42, was sworn in as prime minister by the parliament speaker immediately after the vote. The businessman and former mayor of Strumica 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. Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s conservative party won the elections but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

About a quarter of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian, and inter-ethnic tensions brought the former Yugoslav republic close to civil war in 2001. “The concept of one society for all is the future of Macedonia,” Zaev said Wednesday, rejecting opponents’ criticism that his pledge to consider enhancing the Albanian minority’s standing would undermine Macedonia’s sovereignty.

Under the coalition deal, nine Cabinet portfolios are held by ethnic Albanians, including the economy, justice and European integration posts. The country has been roiled by political crisis since early 2015, sparked by a wiretapping scandal that left Zaev’s party and Gruevski’s formerly governing VMRO-DPMNE conservatives with irreconcilable differences.

Zaev has pledged to focus on the economy, strengthening public institutions and joining the European Union and NATO. He wants to start negotiations with the EU and NATO as soon as possible. Macedonia was granted EU candidate status in 2005. Neighboring Greece has blocked Macedonia’s accession to NATO due to a long-running dispute regarding Macedonia’s name, and the Greeks also have raised objections to its joining the EU.

Zaev tapped Nikola Dimitrov, a former negotiator with Greece, as foreign minister. Radmila Sekjerinska, a former minister for European integration, was named to head the defense ministry. President Gjorge Ivanov earlier had refused to give the mandate to Zaev, accusing him of endangering Macedonia’s unity and sovereignty.

The crisis threatened to re-ignite inter-ethnic conflict, with ethnic Albanian parties demanding as a condition for joining any new government that Albanian be designated a second official language. A month of protests followed across the country.

A mob stormed the parliament building last month after disagreements about the election of a new parliament speaker, leaving more than 100 people injured.

Macedonia’s head seeks emergency talks after parliament riot

April 28, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s president called an emergency meeting of political leaders Friday, hours after demonstrators — mostly supporters of the country’s dominant conservative party — invaded parliament and assaulted opposition lawmakers.

Police said 77 people, including opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, the head of a small ethnic Albanian opposition party and 22 police, were injured in the overnight riot when demonstrators stormed the legislature and attacked lawmakers to protest the election of a new speaker despite a months-old deadlock in efforts to form a new government.

It was unclear whether opposition party leaders would heed President Gjorge Ivanov’s call for a meeting to defuse the tension. The European Union condemned the violence, and said that the cornerstones of democracy should be respected.

Clashes lasted for hours Thursday night, with police initially doing little to stop the invasion. Eventually, they used stun grenades to evacuate the building, and free lawmakers and journalists trapped inside.

Macedonia has been gripped by a deep political crisis for more than two years, and repeated efforts — including international mediation — have failed to improve things. The country has been without a government since elections in December failed to give any party a governing majority.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Friday that “violence is unacceptable, even more so when it happens in the house of democracy.” Mogherini, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Malta, called the incident a “serious crisis that can be dangerous.”

Lawmakers attacked as protesters storm Macedonian parliament

April 28, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Chaos swept into Macedonia’s parliament Thursday as demonstrators stormed the building and attacked lawmakers to protest the election of a new speaker despite a months-old deadlock in efforts to form a new government.

Clashes over several hours injured 77 people, including 22 police officers and several lawmakers, authorities said. Neighboring countries along with the European Union and United States expressed concern at the small Balkan nation’s escalating political crisis.

Dozens of protesters, some of them masked, broke through a police cordon after the opposition Social Democrats and parties representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority voted to name a new parliament speaker.

Many of the protesters were supporters of former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, whose conservative party won elections in December but didn’t get enough votes to form a government on its own. He has been struggling to put together a coalition government and his supporters have been holding nightly street rallies for two months across the country to protest the political situation.

Shouting, hurling chairs and grabbing camera tripods abandoned by startled journalists, the protesters attacked lawmakers, including opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who was seen bleeding from the forehead. TV footage showed a bloodied Zaev and other Social Democrat lawmakers surrounded by protesters waving national flags, shouting “traitors” and refusing to allow them to leave.

A tense standoff lasted several hours, and hundreds of protesters swarmed through the parliament building. Police said 30 lawmakers and a number of journalists who had been trapped inside were eventually evacuated safely.

After being initially overwhelmed, police fired flash grenades and clashed with protesters, expelling them from the building. Lawmaker Ziadin Sela, who heads a small ethnic Albanian party, was the most seriously injured, police said.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov went on television to appeal for calm and “for reasonable and responsible behavior.” Speaking in a brief address to the nation, Ivanov said he had summoned the leaders of the country’s main political parties for a meeting Friday.

The U.S. Embassy in Macedonia and senior European Union officials condemned the violence, while neighboring Greece warned that Macedonia might be “sliding into deep political crisis.” Zaev, 42, was later cheered by hundreds of supporters when he appeared with several lawmakers from his party outside the Social Democratic headquarters in the capital of Skopje.

In a statement, the party accused rival conservatives of inciting the violence and stirring “hatred and division” among the Macedonian people. Macedonia has been without a government since the elections. Coalition talks broke down over ethnic Albanian demands that Albanian be recognized as an official second language. One-fourth of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian.

Amid the coalition negotiations, the Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, as the Balkan nation’s parliament is known, has been deadlocked for three weeks over electing a new speaker. Zaev suggested early in the day that a speaker could be elected outside normal procedures, an idea immediately rejected by the prime minister’s party as an attempted coup. Zaev went ahead with the vote, and a majority in parliament elected Talat Xhaferi, a former defense minister and member of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration. Protesters exploded in anger and fought their way into the building.

Despite the return of calm, a small group of demonstrators ignored instructions by police to leave the area early Friday and they set up tents in a small park near parliament.

Associated Press writers Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania, and Derek Gatopoulos and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

Macedonia conservatives face tough coalition talks

January 09, 2017

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonian conservative leader has been formally granted a mandate to form the country’s next coalition government following an early general election last month. The 46-year-old former prime minister’s VMRO-DPMNE party won 51 seats in 120-member parliament and on Monday was three weeks to secure the 61 seats needed to form a government. Nikola Gruevski is likely to partner with the ethnic Albanian DUI party, which won 10 seats and is headed by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti.

But the country’s three main ethnic Albanian political parties have adopted a joint platform demanding reforms that include constitutional changes to make Albanian an official language. Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia’s population of 2.1 million.

Macedonian conservatives secure win after rerun

December 26, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s conservatives, led by former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, secured victory on Sunday in a bitterly contested national election after a poll rerun in a single station did not give the leftist opposition enough votes to overtake their rivals.

The rerun, in the northwestern village of Tearce, 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the capital of Skopje, gave the opposition, led by the Social Democrats, 245 votes to 149 for the conservatives, led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party. There were 402 people voting out of 714 registered.

The rerun had been ordered following complaints about voting irregularities from the opposition Social Democrats. The result has not been officially announced but has been posted on the website of Macedonia’s Election Commission.

With the rerun result in, VMRO-DPMNE wins 454,577 votes and 51 seats in the 120-member Parliament to 436,981 votes and 49 seats for the Social Democrats. The latter needed to secure 307 votes over the conservatives in a rerun to gain a 50th seat at the conservatives’ expense.

What is certain is that Gruevski will need to form a coalition government with onee or more of the Albanian-minority parties, as he has done in the past. But, this time, coalition-building will be complicated by the emergence of two new Albanian-minority parties. The largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, has been a reliable Gruevski partner in the past.

In the annulled vote in Tearce, on Dec. 11, 404 registered voters had cast ballots. VMRO-DPMNE won 91 votes to 87 for the Social Democrats, while the rest were split among four Albanian-minority parties.

In the lead to the rerun, Gruevski’s party had been spreading rumors that the Albanians would vote massively for the opposition and had even claimed it would not recognize the result. Antonio Milososki, a VMRO-DPMNE senior official, has blamed the leftist opposition of trying to “falsify the electoral will of the citizens”.

“They (the opposition) are trying with some reruns to manipulate or to create conditions for falsifying the will of the people,” he said. The national election was called two years early as part of a Western-brokered deal to defuse a two-year political crisis sparked by a massive wiretapping scandal. The left-wing opposition blamed Gruevski for an illegal wiretapping operation targeting more than 20,000 people.

Voting in the rerun went generally smoothly. It was halted for 15 minutes due to problems with the ultra-violet lamps used in the voting verification process. Election authorities use invisible spray on voters’ thumb to mark them as having cast votes and check all voters with UV lamps to make sure they will not try to vote again.

Police said Sunday they got a report that two individuals allegedly tried to bribe an unidentified number of residents, offering them from 100 to 500 euros, in order not to vote. The bribers allegedly asked for identity documents from voters as proof they would not vote. Authorities are investigating the allegations.

According to the monitors of civic organization “Civil”, attempts were made to bribe about 40 residents.

Macedonian opposition leader contests election defeat

December 13, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia’s opposition leader is challenging the official results of the country’s weekend parliamentary elections, and says he will file a formal appeal with electoral authorities.

Zoran Zaev’s leftist Social Democrats narrowly lost Sunday’s vote to the governing conservatives. He says each of the main parties should get 50 seats in parliament. Results issued Monday gave the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party 51 of parliament’s 120 seats and the Social Democrats 49. While short of a majority, the conservatives should be able to form a governing coalition with their previous junior partner, an ethnic Albanian party.

The early election was designed to end a festering political crisis. Zaev said Monday official results differed significantly from figures provided by his party’s observers at polling stations in a northwestern region mostly populated by ethnic Albanians.

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