June 15, 2020 / 4:40 PM / a month ago

North Macedonia to hold elections on July 15 despite pandemic

SKOPJE, June 15 (Reuters) - North Macedonian political parties agreed on Monday to hold parliamentary elections on July 15, despite a persistent level of coronavirus infections, a move seen as a crucial step for the country’s EU membership bid.

The elections in the landlocked Balkan country and newest NATO member will also be a test of support for the pro-EU policies of the Social Democrats of former Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

After talks with Kristijan Mickoski, the head of the main opposition and nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party, Zaev said the country needed a functional government before the autumn when Macedonia must focus on recovering from the pandemic which may also return in force.

North Macedonia’s economy is forecast to contract 3.5% this year and is expected to return to growth in 2021.

“We cannot bear a bigger crisis than this with a technical government and without a parliament,” Zaev told reporters.

Zaev resigned in January after the European Union refused to set a date for accession talks. In March, the EU said membership talks could begin with North Macedonia and Albania.

A transitional government had initially scheduled a snap parliamentary election for April 12 but postponed it due to the coronavirus which so far infected 4,157 people and killed 193.

Last week, North Macedonia lifted a state of emergency introduced in March to contain the outbreak. (Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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