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North Macedonia declares state of emergency ahead of vote

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s president has declared an eight-day state of emergency ahead of an early national election after the country’s main political leaders agreed the vote will be held on July 15.

President Stevo Pendarovski issued the decree late Monday and it came into force immediately. His office said the decision will allow authorities make the necessary preparations to ensure public health is protected during the campaign and voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The early election had initially been planned for April but was delayed after the virus first appeared in North Macedonia in late February. Parliament was dissolved in February and a caretaker government was sworn in to prepare for the early election.

Until Monday, the leader of the governing Social Democrats, Zoran Zaev, and the conservative opposition had failed to agree on a new date despite repeated efforts. Zaev reached the agreement Monday with opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski, head of the conservative VMRO_DPMNE party.

The tiny Balkan country is grappling with another spike of infections after lockdown restrictions were relaxed last month. Health authorities have announced 103 new confirmed cases Monday and five deaths, bringing the total number of cases to 4,157 and the death toll to 193 in this country of around 2 million people.

“These elections will be unusual in a way that there will be no ordinary election campaign,” Parliament speaker Talat Xhaferi said in a statement. He said all citizens must adhere “in the most disciplined way” to health authorities’ recommendations.

Politics in North Macedonia has been rocked for years by successive scandals, allegations of corruption and by a heated dispute over an agreement with southern neighbor Greece that saw the country change its name last year from Macedonia. In return, Greece, which has a northern province named Macedonia, dropped its objections to the country’s accession to NATO.

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