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Macedonia Opposition Leader Meets With Washington Officials - 2004-02-03

The leader of Macedonia's principal opposition party is in Washington meeting with U.S. and international officials. The new leader of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Party (VMRODPMNE), Nikola Gruevski, faults the Macedonian government for not moving fast enough on free market reforms and membership in NATO and the European Union.

Mr. Gruevski says the southernmost and poorest of the former Yugoslav republics is lagging behind on economic restructuring, the rule of law, and building democratic institutions. Addressing reporters at the National Press Club, the 34-year-old Mr. Gruevski, expressed his opposition to an ethnic division of the country, an idea that has been favored by some members of his party.

"In the past there were several such ideas for dividing the country coming from several sides and coming from several political persons. Now, I think, this issue is not on the table. And all parties in Macedonia are seeing Macedonia as part of the European Union," he said.

Mr. Gruevski professes unwavering support to the 2001 Ohrid accord that defused a potential civil war by granting increased powers to Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority.

Mr. Gruevski served as finance minister in the center-right, scandal-plagued government that was rejected by voters and replaced by a coalition led by social democrats in September 2002. He concedes that corruption has been a major problem.

"Corruption is not a problem of one party or one ethnic community. It is a bigger problem, a problem of all parties and all ethnic groups. And if we have a selective approach (by the government), then we can not have enough success," he said.

Macedonia has been relatively stable politically for the past two years with the two big Macedonian parties having allied themselves with rival Albanian parties. However, the economy is stagnant and one third of the labor force is unemployed while foreign investment flows are way below expectations.