North Macedonia leaders agree on April 12 election date

North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev talks to the media during a news conference at the government building in Skopje, North Macedonia, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. North Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev say he is “disappointed and outraged” with European Union’s Council decision not to start membership talks with his country. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — North Macedonia’s political leaders agreed Sunday that an early election will be held next year, following the European Union’s decision not to begin membership talks.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said late Sunday after a meeting with President Stevo Pendarovski that the leaders of the main political parties had decided that the “most suitable” date for the vote is April 12, eight months before parliament’s four-year term is due to expire.

A caretaker government of technicians will take over from Zaev’s Social Democrat-led coalition on Jan. 3, 100 days before the election.

Zaev had asked Saturday for an early election, speaking of his “disappointment and outrage” on the EU’s failure to start membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

France, supported by Denmark and the Netherlands, strongly opposed membership talks, calling for an overhaul of the procedure to admit new members.

Zaev had staked his political future on an agreement with Greece, concluded in 2018, that changed the country’s name from Macedonia and settling a decades-long name dispute with its neighbor.

Greece considered that the name “Macedonia” was an attempt to steal its own Macedonian heritage and might imply territorial designs on its northern province of Macedonia. Included in the accord was a statement that the current state of Macedonia and the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia are unrelated.

The agreement was ratified despite heavy criticism by opposition parties and hardline nationalists in both countries.

While the agreement paved the way for Macedonia’s entry into NATO, the EU route is being blocked for now.

___

Demetris Nellas contributed to this report from Athens, Greece.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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