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Photograph: HINA/ Damir SENČAR /ds

Macedonian authorities on Tuesday began purging the electoral rolls, a step towards the already twice-delayed early polls agreed to a year ago as the way out of a crippling political crisis.

The State Election Commission published a list of 40,000 voters who may have died but remain in the electoral register. Without proof that they are alive, their records will be scrubbed in one month.

The records of an additional 170,000 voters believed to have permanently left the country must also be checked, according to the commission.

The registry clean-up, affecting up to 11 per cent of the 1.8 million voters, is one of the key demands of the opposition, which has claimed that the nationalist VMRO party – in power since 2006 - won 2014 elections through manipulation.

The impasse escalated into a full-blown crisis, threatening the country's fragile stability, when Social Democratic opposition accused former prime minister and VMRO leader Nikola Gruevski of illegally wiretapping 20,000 people in order to control them.

Through EU and US mediation, VMRO and the opposition agreed to end the crisis through snap elections in April. But with the implementation of the agreed-upon measures behind schedule, the elections were first postponed to June, then once again indefinitely.

The deal to verify the voter registry, reached in another round of negotiations held under Western pressure, could possibly pave the way for elections in December.

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