SKOPJE The United States urged Macedonian leaders on Monday to end a political stalemate and allow the parliamentary majority made up of Social Democrats and parties representing ethnic Albanians to form a new government.
Nearly five months after a Dec. 11 parliamentary election, Macedonian nationalists unhappy about the inclusion of ethnic Albanians are blocking the formation of a new government, further deepening the worst crisis in the tiny Balkan country since it narrowly averted an ethnic civil war in 2001.
"We feel that it is very important for the leaders to find a way to allow the majority in parliament ... to propose a government and a government programme," U.S. State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Hoyt Yee, said in Skopje after meeting leaders.
"We understand there are concerns about the composition of the government programme and, like in all European democracies, we believe that whatever is proposed by the majority should be considered seriously in parliament, debated in parliament and voted in parliament."
More than 100 people were injured last Thursday night in clashes inside and outside parliament over the election of an ethnic Albanian as speaker of the assembly.
Yee condemned the violence and called on authorities to investigate the incident.
President Gjorge Ivanov has refused to give a mandate to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev to form a government, saying his coalition with ethnic Albanian parties would threaten the sovereignty of the state.
After meeting Yee, Ivanov issued a statement calling on Zaev to provide reassurances that his coalition would work according to the constitution and uphold national unity.
After the December election in the former Yugoslav republic, Zaev put together a coalition agreement with two parties representing ethnic Albanians, who make up a third of Macedonia's 2.1 million-strong population.
The deal envisages a law allowing wider use of the Albanian language, and this has triggered daily street protests by Macedonian nationalists.
Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015, when it sank into political turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the ruling nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party bloc.
Efforts to move towards membership of the European Union and NATO have made little headway because of a dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name, which it shares with a northern Greek province.
(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Gareth Jones)