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‘Disappointed’ US wants Macedonia to approve name change despite failed referendum

‘Disappointed’ US wants Macedonia to approve name change despite failed referendum
The US State Department has urged the opposition in Macedonia to vote in favor of the name change deal despite the failed referendum, while the government in Skopje is threatening those that don’t with terrorism prosecutions.

In a letter dated Tuesday,  assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell says that Washington is “disappointed” in the position of the leading opposition party, VMRO-DPMNE.

“We urge you to set aside partisan interests to advance our shared strategic interests and secure a brighter future for your citizens among the European family of nations,” Mitchell says in the letter, whose authenticity was confirmed by the US embassy in Skopje.

Despite the best efforts of the government and its US and EU backers, the September 30 referendum on the name change failed, with less than 40 percent of the electorate casting their ballots. Even the carefully worded question, focusing on the promised brighter future in the EU and NATO, was not enough to overcome the organized boycott.

Mitchell now urged the opposition party’s leadership to “create space” for its members to reconsider their position “free from threats of violence, retribution, or other forms of coercion.”

Such threats, however, appear to be coming solely from the US-backed government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who struck the deal with Greece to change the country’s name to North Macedonia back in June. Antonio Miloshoski, a VMRO member of parliament, was subpoenaed as a suspect by the country’s special prosecutor on Tuesday, local media reported. A hearing featuring a “protected witness” was closed to the press, but US and OSCE diplomats were allowed in the courtroom, local media reported.

Several party MPs are being held under house arrest over an incident in April 2017, when VMRO sympathizers stormed the parliament in rage over Zaev appointing an ethnic Albanian nationalist as speaker.

Miloshoski claims that Zaev has offered to grant amnesty to those charged with terrorism over the April 27 incident if they vote his way on amending the Constitution, and that this is “proof that he has instrumentalized  the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office for political purposes.”

Further fueling speculation that the government is pressuring VMRO members on the name change vote, one MP was released from house arrest on bail.

Despite the failed referendum, Zaev’s government is struggling to get a two-thirds majority in the 120-member Sobranie required to amend the constitution and rename the country North Macedonia. Under the terms of the deal with Greece, this would remove Athens’ veto on the former Yugoslav republic’s applications to the EU and NATO.

READ MORE: Macedonia's failed referendum is blow to Western lobbyists, but govt will seek to join NATO anyway

Opponents of the name change have meanwhile criticized Mitchell’s letter as yet another example of the ongoing US meddling into Macedonian affairs, urging the West to respect the will of the people.

If the Sobranie fails to adopt the name change, Zaev has said he would immediately call a new election, presumably in hope that the new legislature would be more to his liking.

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