EU's foreign policy chief urges calm in Macedonia

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People protest march through a street in Skopje, Macedonia, on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

People protest march through a street in Skopje, Macedonia, on Thursday, March 2, 2017. (Photo: AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — The European Union's foreign policy chief urged Macedonia's president Thursday to reverse his decision and let the country's left-wing opposition leader try to form a new government.

Federica Mogherini met Macedonian leaders in Skopje and called for them to scale down their rhetoric for fear of triggering inter-ethnic conflict.

The crisis emerged after President Gjorge Ivanov refused Wednesday to give the mandate to Zoran Zaev, runner-up in December's parliamentary election.

Ivanov accused Zaev of jeopardizing national sovereignty, because his ethnic Albanian potential coalition partners want Albanian to be declared the country's second official language.

The party that won the most votes, former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's conservatives, failed to strike a coalition deal with ethnic Albanian parties over their language demand.

Federica Mogherini, center, the European Commission's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, accompanied by EU Ambassador to Macedonia Samuel Zbogar, right, arrives at the European Union office in Skopje, Macedonia.
Federica Mogherini, center, the European Commission's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, accompanied by EU Ambassador to Macedonia Samuel Zbogar, right, arrives at the European Union office in Skopje, Macedonia.

Ethnic Albanians form a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1-million population, and Albanian is already an official language in minority-dominated areas.

Relations with the majority Macedonians have been tense at times. The country narrowly avoided civil war in 2001 after an uprising by armed ethnic Albanian groups seeking greater rights.

Thousands of Macedonians protested outside the country's parliament in Skopje late Thursday against the designation of Albanian as a second official language nationwide.

Some held balloons in the country's national colors and posters reading "Macedonia is all we have."

Similar protests have been held in the capital and other major cities over the past four days.

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