February 8, 2019 / 6:05 PM / 5 months ago

Macedonia's parliament set April 21 for presidential election

SKOPJE (Reuters) - The speaker of Macedonia’s parliament on Friday set April 21 as the date for presidential elections.

“I’m convinced that all involved in the electoral process will give their contribution so the elections can be conducted in a fair and democratic atmosphere,” Talat Xhaferi said after announcing the date.

The role of president is mostly ceremonial, but he signs laws adopted by the parliament and is commander-in-chief of the army.

The government of the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev secured a narrow majority in the 120-seat parliament to change the country’s name to North Macedonia, ending decades long dispute with Greece and paving the way for the country’s accession to NATO and eventually to the European Union.

But nationalists, including current president Gjorge Ivanov and the opposition VMRO-DPMNE, oppose the name change.

For 27 years Greece had blocked the former Yugoslav republic’s accession to NATO and EU, refusing to accept the name Macedonia saying it implies a territorial claim over its northern province with the same name.

But last June Prime Minister Zaev and his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras agreed on a new name Republic of North Macedonia.

On Thursday, Macedonia signed the accession protocol with NATO despite Russian criticism that further expansion by the alliance in the Balkans is undermining regional stability.

Once a part of Yugoslavia, Macedonia peacefully seceded in 1991 but came close to civil war in 2001 when ethnic Albanians launched an armed insurgency seeking greater autonomy.

The war was stopped thanks to EU and NATO involvement in peace negotiations.

Reporting by Kole Csule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; editing by John Stonestreet and Toby Chopra

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