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North Macedonia's parliament prepares to vote on a proposed center-right government

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North Macedonia's parliament prepares to vote on a proposed center-right government
News

News

North Macedonia's parliament prepares to vote on a proposed center-right government

2024-06-23 02:35 Last Updated At:02:40

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia's parliament began a two-day debate leading up to a vote on the new government proposed by a center-right party that won May's national elections.

Heading the proposed government is Hristijan Mickoski, a 46-year-old former engineering professor who has pledged to continue his center-left predecessors’ efforts to shepherd the small Balkan NATO member into the European Union.

Speaking in parliament Saturday, Mickoski said the new cabinet would maintain efforts to bring the country in line with EU standards.

"Support continues for Ukraine to defend its national integrity and sovereignty,” in the war against Russia, he added, and pledged to build good relations with North Macedonia's neighbors.

But Mickoski's more nationalist tone could alienate neighboring Bulgaria and Greece, both EU members with the power to hinder his country's accession to the 27-nation bloc.

Mickoski is expected to win Sunday’s vote easily, having secured the support of 78 lawmakers in the 120-seat house.

His VMRO-DPMNE party heads a coalition that gained just over 43% of the vote in the May 8 elections, winning 58 seats — three short of a governing majority. Mickoski struck a coalition deal with the ethnic Albanian Vredi, or Worth, party and the small leftist ZNAM, securing a comfortable majority.

Under the agreement, VMRO-DPMNE will have 15 ministerial positions, while Vredi and ZNAM will get six and two, respectively.

Mickoski served as an advisor on energy matters to a previous VMRO-DPMNE government in 2015-2017.

His key domestic challenges in government will include enhancing the rule of law while addressing corruption and poverty and reviving a sluggish economy.

Speaking in parliament, Mickoski accused the previous government of having left North Macedonia “close to clinical death in several key areas." He promised to cut taxes and raise pensions, while at the same time growing the economy by 5% this year and cutting inflation to no more than 2.5%.

But his government's main issue will be North Macedonia’s path to the EU, which is being blocked by Bulgaria over its demands that the candidate amend its constitution to recognize a Bulgarian minority. The previous, center-left government promised to make the change, but VMRO-DPMNE has denounced the vow as a “capitulation (to) Bulgarian dictates.”

Opposition lawmakers on Saturday charged VMRO-DPMNE with lacking a strategy to overcome the problem with Bulgaria.

North Macedonia entered NATO in 2019, following a historic deal with Greece that ended a decades-old dispute over cultural heritage and history and saw the small country change its name from Macedonia to North Macedonia. But VMRO-DPMNE has already made clear its distaste for the agreement, which could jeopardize Athens' support for its neighbor's EU accession.

North Macedonia’s new president Gordana Siljanovska Davkova — a VMRO-DPMNE candidate — riled Greek and EU officials by calling her country Macedonia when she took the formal oath of office. She later insisted that she had a “human right” to refer to her country as she liked.

Mickoski said recently he will use the new constitutional name — North Macedonia — during the oath and in all official meetings and events. But he added that he would stick to Macedonia in informal communications.

EU membership negotiations with North Macedonia and fellow candidate Albania began in 2022 and the process is expected to take years.

Under parliamentary rules, the vote on the government must be held by midnight on Sunday.

FILE - Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, speaks during a celebration on the main square after their party announced victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections, in Skopje, North Macedonia, early Thursday, May 9, 2024. North Macedonia's parliament began a two-day debate leading up to a vote on the new government proposed by a center-right party that won May's national elections. Heading the government is Hristijan Mickoski, a 46-year-old engineering professor who has pledged to continue his center-left predecessors’ efforts to shepherd the small Balkan NATO member into the European Union. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski), File)

FILE - Hristijan Mickoski, the leader of the opposition conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, speaks during a celebration on the main square after their party announced victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections, in Skopje, North Macedonia, early Thursday, May 9, 2024. North Macedonia's parliament began a two-day debate leading up to a vote on the new government proposed by a center-right party that won May's national elections. Heading the government is Hristijan Mickoski, a 46-year-old engineering professor who has pledged to continue his center-left predecessors’ efforts to shepherd the small Balkan NATO member into the European Union. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski), File)

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh has been gripped by violence this week after relentless clashes between student protesters, security officials and pro-government student activists over a quota system for government jobs.

Protest organizers say they are imposing “a complete shutdown” across Bangladesh on Thursday, except for essential services. This comes after several major universities in the country agreed to shut their doors indefinitely until tensions ease.

Here’s what we know:

The protests, which have drawn tens of thousands out on the streets, began late last month but tensions escalated on Monday when student activists at Dhaka University, the country’s largest, clashed with police and counter-protesters backed by the ruling Awami League. At least 100 people were injured in the aftermath.

The next day, as violence continued to roil campuses across Bangladesh, six people were killed. More clashes were also reported on Wednesday and Thursday and paramilitary forces were deployed to patrol the streets of major cities.

In response, major universities said they will close until the situation is resolved in order to protect students.

The protesters say they will continue to demonstrate but are open to discussions with the government. More violence took place on Thursday in Dhaka and elsewhere in the country as police fired tear gas at protesters, according to police officials and local television.

At the heart of the demonstrations is a quota system that reserves up to 30% of government jobs for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan.

Protesters want to abolish this system, which they say is discriminatory and benefits supporters of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Awami League party, which led the independence movement. They want it replaced with a system that’s based on merit.

Even though job opportunities have grown in some parts of the private sector, many people prefer government jobs because they are seen as more stable and lucrative. But there aren’t enough to go around — each year, some 400,000 graduates compete for around 3,000 jobs in the civil service exam.

Under the quota system, government jobs are also reserved for women, disabled people and members of ethnic minorities, but students have mainly protested against jobs reserved for veterans’ families.

Hasina has defended the quota system, saying that veterans deserve the highest respect for their contributions in the war regardless of their political affiliation.

Her government has also accused the main opposition parties, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the right wing Jamaat-e-Islami party, of fueling chaos. The BNP has backed the students' calls for shutdown on Thursday.

On Wednesday, authorities also raided the headquarters of the BNP and arrested several activists from the party's student wing.

The clashes come months after Hasina maintained power in an election that was boycotted by opposition parties and saw opposition members jailed ahead of the polls.

This isn’t the first time there’s been uproar over this issue. In 2018, Hasina’s government halted the quotas after mass student protests.

However, the High Court nullified that decision last month and reinstated the quotas after relatives of the 1971 veterans filed petitions, sparking the latest round of protests. The Supreme Court suspended that decision and promised to rule on the issue on Aug. 7. Despite this, the protests have persisted.

“I am requesting all to wait with patience until the verdict is delivered,” Hasina said in a televised address Wednesday evening. “I believe our students will get justice from the apex court. They will not be disappointed.”

The furore has also highlighted cracks in Bangladesh’s governance and economy following the pandemic and global upheaval of the wars in Ukraine and Gaza and reflect a lack of good quality jobs available for young graduates.

“The reason behind such huge participation is that many students go through the bitter experience of not finding the jobs they deserve after completing their education," wrote Anu Muhammad, a former economics professor and analyst, in the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper. "In addition, rampant corruption and irregularities in government job recruitment exams and selection processes have created immense frustration and anger.”

“The country’s economy shows growth, but jobs are not being created,” he wrote.

Hasnat Abdullah, a protest coordinator, said the students want to return to classes but will do so once their demands are met.

On Thursday afternoon, Bangladesh’s Law Minister Anisul Huq said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked him to sit with the protesters for a dialogue, and he was ready to sit down on Thursday if protesters were willing.

AP writer Krutika Pathi contributed from New Delhi, India.

Students advocating for quota reform in public service held a mock funeral at Dhaka University in memory of those who died during clashes, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Students advocating for quota reform in public service held a mock funeral at Dhaka University in memory of those who died during clashes, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

CORRECTS LOCATION - Students clash over quota system at New market area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

CORRECTS LOCATION - Students clash over quota system at New market area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Tuesday, July 16, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Police fire tear gas shells and rubber bullets to disperse students shouting slogans in favor of quota system in public service at the university campus, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Rajib Dhar)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Here's what to know about the violent protests over government jobs roiling Bangladesh

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

Students clash over quota system at Jahangir Nagar University at Savar outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Monday, July 15, 2024. Police have fired tear gas and charged with batons overnight during violent clashes between a pro-government student body and student protesters, leaving dozens injured at a leading public university outside Bangladesh's capital over quota system in government jobs, police and students said Tuesday.(AP Photo/Abdul Goni)

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