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Macedonian Election Winner Pledges End to Name Dispute With Greece


The man who has won Macedonia's presidential elections has pledged to solve a dispute with Greece over his country's name, which has delayed its entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The opposition conceded defeat in Macedonia's presidential runoff election to Gjorgje Ivanov, the candidate of the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, after official results showed he received more than 60 percent of the vote.

The 49-year-old international law professor beat his opponent, former minister Ljubomir Frckovski of the main opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia.

Ivanov said Sunday's ballot would boost his country's attempts to join the European Union and NATO.

In a major turnaround, Ivanov also pledged that as president he would seek a solution to the 18-year dispute with neighbor Greece over his country's name.

He says with these elections Macedonians have paved the way for the country's European integration. Ivanov added, "I hope that together with all institutions we can realize three key goals - E.U. and NATO membership and solving the name issue" with Greece.

NATO-member Greece has blocked Macedonia's efforts to join the alliance.

Since Macedonia gained independence in 1991, Athens has demanded that the Balkan republic change or amend its name, saying it wants to protect its own northern province called Macedonia from potential territorial claims.

Macedonia had hoped to impress the European Union and NATO by holding peaceful and fair elections after fraud and violence, including one death, tainted parliamentary voting last year.

But EU Ambassador to Macedonia Erwan Fouere said he had reservations about Sunday's vote, which was observed by hundreds of international monitors.

"Overall I can say that the process seems to be working normally," the ambassador added. "We have, however, witnessed a number of incidents of intimidation. And we are receiving reports of a lot of irregularities in the Struga area. And it is absolutely vitally important that every opportunity be taken by the political parties to ensure that their activists refrain from any intimidation, so that the citizens can go and vote freely."

Election observers say voter turnout barely exceeded the 40 percent requirement for the results to count.

Besides choosing a president, Macedonians also voted for mayors of 43 municipalities, including in the capital Skopje, where the ruling conservatives claimed their candidate had won.

Gjorgje Ivanov will succeed Branko Crvenkovski as the fourth president since Macedonia broke away from Yugoslavia, 18 years go.

Although largely a ceremonial post, the president is supreme commander of the army and has decision-making authority in foreign policy and the judiciary.

Ivanov will inherit a still volatile country where ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's two million people. The country narrowly avoided war between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians in 2001.


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