Nikola Gruevski.jpg
Photograph: EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Thursday announced his resignation under an EU-brokered agreement with the opposition, paving the way for early elections in April.

In a nationally televised address, Gruevski said that he would tender his resignation to the parliament speaker on Friday.

Gruevski's resignation, if carried out on Friday, would meet a deadline for set in the political agreement. It would also be a crucial step in a package that Hahn brokered between feuding Macedonian leaders six months earlier in a bid to end a dangerous blockade that has threatened stability in the volatile region.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn is due to visit Skopje on Friday and pressure leaders of the four main parties to stick to the timetable agreed in talks he brokered between them aiming to end a crippling political crisis through elections.

Friday "is a key deadline of the political agreement, the implementation of which is important both for the government and the citizens of the country," Hahn said ahead of the visit.

"I expect that the outstanding elements of the political agreement will be resolved before or during my visit, allowing the election authorities to organize credible elections according to the agreed timetable," he said in a statement.

The nationalist Gruevski and his Social Democratic archrival Zoran Zaev, as well as the two largest parties stemming from the sizeable ethnic Albanian minority, agreed a series of steps preceding the scheduling of the elections.

The deal led to the return of Zaev's Social Democrats, ending a boycott of the parliament they launched on the night of the April 2014 elections, amid allegations that Gruevski's nationalist VMRO party manipulated the vote. 

Most of the agreed moves, such as the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Zaev's allegations of Gruevski's corruption, were late by weeks.

The day before the deadline for Gruevski to resign, it was unclear who may be appointed as the technical prime minister tasked with preparing the polls.

Zaev and the SDSM also complained that the country's faulty voter registry was not overhauled in time, possibly bringing the April date into question.

The VMRO, a centre-right party that has shifted toward nationalism in recent years, won elections in 2006, 2008 and 2011. 

One of six former Yugoslav republics, Macedonia was on the verge of civil war in 2001, when the Albanians, making up 25-30 per cent of the population, rebelled for more rights.

NATO and EU defused the conflict by brokering reforms the Albanians wanted, but the country remain volatile, with the population sharply polarized politically and ethnically.

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