SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonian political parties on Friday reached a deal ending months of political deadlock and an opposition boycott of Parliament that had threatened the country's efforts to join the European Union and NATO.
In a deal brokered by EU officials, conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and the head of the opposition Social Democrats, Branko Crvenkovski, agreed to hold local elections on March 24 and for the opposition to return to Parliament immediately.
The Social Democrats had been boycotting Parliament and the local government elections to press demands for an early general election. The spat with the conservative government broke out Dec. 24 during a budget debate marred by violent clashes inside and outside Parliament between rival lawmakers and their supporters. Three lawmakers and 11 policemen were injured.
The Social Democrats were angry because their lawmakers were expelled from the debate, where they accused the governing conservatives of wasting public money. Richard Howitt, the rapporteur for Macedonia at the Foreign affairs Committee of the European parliament, said the parties will hold discussions on when to conduct the next parliamentary elections, normally scheduled for 2015.
He said Friday's agreement "is crucial to this country's European perspective." Macedonia has been a candidate to join EU since 2005, but no date for formal negotiations has been set, mainly because of a name dispute with neighboring Greece.