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Macedonia's President Urges Parliament To Ratify Peace With Rebels - 2001-08-31


Macedonia's president has urged the country's parliament to ratify a peace accord with ethnic Albanian rebels. Earlier, hard-line demonstrators blockaded the parliament and set up highway roadblocks in other parts of the country.

President Boris Trajkovski called on Macedonia's legislature to give its approval to a peace agreement that he says will end six-months of ethnic fighting.

He said the accord is the best compromise possible with ethnic Albanian rebels, offering equality for Macedonia's citizens, not discrimination. If the deal is rejected, Mr. Trajkovski said the country would be plunged back into war.

The accord calls for making Albanian a second official language in Macedonia, and for hiring more than 1,000 new ethnic Albanian police officers. It also removes wording from the constitution declaring the country the homeland and nation-state of the ethnic Macedonians.

Earlier, several hundred demonstrators blocked lawmakers from entering the parliament building, delaying Friday's session until late afternoon. A small group of protesters remained outside the building, held back by a long cordon of police.

Ethnic Macedonians who oppose the proposed reform package say it goes too far in favoring the ethnic Albanian minority. They also complain that the international community is trying to force Macedonia to accept the deal. The rebel ethnic-Albanian National Liberation Army has said it will not go forward with a NATO disarmament plan until the parliament takes the first steps toward approving the peace accord.

A group of ethnic Macedonians who say NLA rebels forced them out of their homes blocked the main highway to Serbia to all traffic briefly on Friday. They said their one-hour protest was a "warning" before they continued letting passenger and commercial traffic through their checkpoint. Most travel by NATO and other international organizations remained blocked in the area for a second day.

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