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Deadline nears for Macedonia deal

TIRANA, Albania -- Macedonian leaders have set a Friday deadline for an ethnic Albanian party to join an emergency coalition government.

The ultimatum to the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) comes amid increasing pressure on party leaders to back the unity government plan.

Albania's prime minister has urged the PDP to join the coalition, as has a leading Kosovo politician.

Macedonia aims to form the government on Friday. Its army has scaled down shelling of rebel positions in the country.

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CNN's Chris Burns: International pressure mounts

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Lesson plan: Continued fighting in Macedonia

Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski is to meet party leaders at 1000 GMT on Friday, Reuters reported.

Albanian Prime Minister Ilir Meta and the leader of the Kosovo Albanian Democratic Party, Hashim Thaci, both condemned fighting in Macedonia and said the grievances of Macedonia's Albanian minority should be solved by political and democratic means.

Fighting in Macedonia near the border with Kosovo has flared in the past week after a lull since a February uprising subsided.

Ethnic Albanian rebels say they are fighting against what they say is discrimination against their people.

Macedonian troops have continued to bombard the villages the rebels hold, and the government has ruled out a ceasefire.

The Albanian and Kosovan leaders, at a joint news conference, increased the pressure for the PDP to join the coalition, designed to present a united front to the rebels.

"Any step leading toward the establishment of a government with a broader base than the existing one is a positive development," Meta told reporters.

"It widens the base for decision-making and narrows the space for political speculation between (government) and opposition parties (in Macedonia)," he added.

Thaci said Kosovo supported the integrity of Macedonia and denied that the insurgency there was exported by his U.N.-run province.

"We support democratic changes (in Macedonia) so that all citizens be equal. But we do not support armed confrontations," said Thaci.

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson reiterated on Thursday his plea that political leaders in Macedonia find a way of creating a united government.

"When the nation's very survival is at stake, there is no room for playing politics," Robertson told a news conference in Madrid.

"All political leaders who care for the future of the people of Macedonia should unite, stand together and face the future as a united country," he added.

"I'm urging all parties to continue the attempts of a government of national unity because it is in the interest of the survival of the country."

NATO has provided military advice to Macedonia while its peacekeeping troops in Kosovo attempt to seal the border to infiltrators.

Meanwhile, ethnic Albanian rebel leaders accused Macedonian forces on Thursday of systematically destroying remote villages to drive Albanians out.

"That's what they're aiming for. They're using the scorched earth tactics the Russians did in Afghanistan," said Commander Sokoli of the National Liberation Army (UCK).

"In Slupcane there, they're shelling the houses, not our positions. We're in front of the village and above it but not in it. But that's doesn't matter to them," he said.

The NLA insists a solution is possible.

"This can all be solved by a ball-point pen and an agreement to sign," said one rebel.

"Sooner or later we will be sitting at the negotiating table, you'll see. Until then, we won't be moving."

About 8,000 Albanians have fled north to Kosovo in the past week to escape artillery, tank and rocket fire, or the fear of it.

About 10,000 left mountain villages above Tetovo six weeks ago for the same reason. According to Sokoli, that area is another empty quarter on the Kosovo border, except for troops.

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Macedonian Government
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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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