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Vote confirms Macedonia coalition

Georgievski's opening speech resulted in the parliament session being halted
Georgievski's opening speech resulted in the parliament session being halted  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Macedonia's parliament has voted 104-1 in favor of national unity government.

The vote was taken on Sunday night, later than expected because of last-minute wrangling.

Macedonian politicians had gathered earlier in the day to form the grand coalition government.


They are sceptical on the front line

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But a vote to ratify it was delayed when Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski angered a key party with a hardline outburst in which he vowed to crush ethnic Albanian rebels.

"We are dealing with forces which have the clear intention to destroy the state and to introduce fear and terror," Georgievski said in his opening speech.

The speech angered the Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity (PDP) which asked for a break until 1830 GMT while it met Western diplomats before returning to the assembly to conduct the vote.

CNN's Chris Burns said the day had been "unexpectedly suspenseful."

He said: "There was this fiery speech from Prime Minister Georgievski who called the National Liberation Army 'a cruel enemy that has to be crushed.' He said that 'our state is in danger so all of us should be united.'

"The Albanian Party of Democratic Prosperity called for a delay because they wanted an explanation of what he meant by that, because it has agreed to join this coalition -- aimed at ending the crisis -- in exchange for assurances that the government will not proceed with its offensive against ethnic Albanian rebels in the field."

"We are examining the political implications of the prime minister's speech," PDP spokesman Zahir Bekteshi said.

"The vocabulary does not comply with the conclusions of parliament and the suggestions of the international community."

The PDP eventually returned to the session after assurances from representatives from the international community, including the U.S., the European Union and NATO.

CNN has learned that it is expected that the ethnic Albanians, who often say they are treated as second class citizens, are to be given four Cabinet positions

The Democratic Party of Albanians (DPA) are to be in charge of the economic and labour ministries while justice and local government move from the DPA to the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) -- the last party to join the coalition.

Georgieveski's Slav-dominated party, VMRO, will keep the interior ministry along with transport and three other portfolios.

The SDSM -- another Slav-dominated party -- will take charge of the defence and foreign affairs ministries. Two other smaller Slav parties get environment and health.

Just as parliament began its session, government forces opened fire with Soviet-built tanks on the rebel-held village of Slupcane northeast of the capital Skopje, ending a day of quiet that had followed a blitz on Saturday.

In the battle zone around Kumanovo, 30 km (20 miles) from Skopje, a senior interior ministry commander said he believed troops could evict the rebels from their mountain hideouts within hours were it not for fear of civilian casualties.

Residents of a cluster of hamlets occupied by the NLA rebels have been crammed into sandbagged basement shelters with dwindling supplies for days. The NLA denies holding them as human shields to prevent an army assault.

"We're angry," the army commander told reporters. "They're holding the area where we go fishing and hunting at weekends. We could have moved ahead fast but we have not done so far."

Despite battering the villages for the past 10 days, the Macedonian army has failed to advance any significant distance.

The guerrillas say long-range shelling leaves them untouched.

"We haven't had a scratch," a spokesman called Commander Hoxha told Reuters.

Army spokesman Blagoje Markovski said government troops had sent the tanks into action on Sunday after observing rebels in Slupcane setting up artillery and machinegun positions.

"Terrorists opened fire with a heavy machine gun on Macedonian security forces," he said. "We responded forcefully."

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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