Albanian party threatens to bring down Macdonian govt

Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:34am EDT

SKOPJE, March 12 (Reuters) - An ethnic Albanian party threatened to bring down Macedonia's ruling coalition on Wednesday over what it said was a failure to support minority rights or to recognise newly independent neighbour Kosovo.

A walkout by the Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) would end conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's slim parliamentary majority and force him to look for other partners or call a snap election less than two years since taking office.

The European Union favours ethnic Albanian participation in the government and insists on progress on the rights of the Albanian minority before entry talks can start with Macedonia.

DPA leader Menduh Thaci said he would ask party leaders on Wednesday evening to quit the government over its failure to allow greater use of the Albanian language and flag and increase benefits for veterans of the 2001 Albanian guerrilla insurgency.

He also cited the fact Macedonia has yet to recognise neighbouring Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians last month declared independence from Serbia with Western backing.

"It's finished," Thaci said after meeting the U.S. ambassador in Skopje. "I'll ask the party leadership tonight, and I'm convinced my proposal will be accepted. It's a matter of hours, not days."

Thaci last threatened to quit the government in May 2007, but backed down after winning commitments from Gruevski to a raft of legislation on the Albanian minority.

Gruevski is already under pressure in a row with Greece over the country's name, which threatens to derail its bid for membership of NATO at next month's summit in Bucharest.

NATO and European Union diplomacy pulled Macedonia from the brink of civil war in 2001, ending a six-month Albanian guerrilla insurgency in exchange for greater minority rights.

The promise of NATO and EU membership has since kept tensions in check. But Athens is threatening to block Macedonia's NATO accession if it does not accept a different name.

Macedonia is also the name of Greece's northern province, birthplace of Alexander the Great. (Reporting by Kole Casule, writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Philippa Fletcher)