- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 24, 2001

SKOPJE, Macedonia Macedonia's prime minister failed to persuade seven ministers to remain in the government to avoid threatening the Balkan country's peace process.

Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski appealed to the leaders yesterday to change their minds about leaving the coalition government in a protest against Macedonian policies toward the ethnic-Albanian minority.

Speaking to the seven before a formal parliamentary vote to approve their resignations, Mr. Georgievski urged them "to think of what is in the best interest of Macedonia."

"Your leaving will only provide extremists with excuses for future actions," he said.

The three ministers and four deputy ministers ignored Mr. Georgievski's appeal, and parliament voted to approve their resignations.

The assembly could have voted against relieving the seven of their duties, but that would not have prevented their departure from government.

Yesterday's vote came after a key Macedonian party the Social Democrats decided Tuesday to leave the government in protest of what they called Mr. Georgievski's harsh policies toward minority ethnic Albanians. A smaller party, the Liberal Alliance, walked out Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear whether parliament would appoint replacements for the seven or whether the rump government would carry on until elections next year. For the 17-member Cabinet to collapse, at least six ministers have to resign.

Among those who resigned were Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski and Deputy Prime Minister Ilia Filipovski all Social Democrats.

The coalition government, created in May under a Western-engineered peace plan, brought together top Macedonian and ethnic Albanian parties to seek a political solution to the country's conflict. An ethnic-Albanian insurgency had threatened to explode into civil war.

Speaking to parliament, Mr. Georgievski said the government was "a coalition not out of love but of necessity, to save Macedonia from the brink of war."

"The danger for our state is not over, only part of the peace process has been completed and much remains ahead: to reintegrate the country and to have refugees return," he added.

The Social Democrats recently stepped up their criticism of Mr. Georgievski, accusing him of incompetence and "catastrophic economic policies," indicating the party is preparing for a gloves-off elections bid.


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