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Macedonia elections key to EU candidacy

Macedonia elections key to EU candidacy
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Macedonia goes to the polls today in presidential and local elections that are being seen as a test of the country’s ability to qualify as a candidate for European Union membership.

Seven contenders are in the running for the presidency with politics professor George Ivanov ahead in the polls, albeit with an insufficient lead for an outright first-round victory. The vote is unlikely to change much as the presidential role in Macedonia is ceremonial. The country is still largely poor, unstable and economically hampered by a 17-year-old dispute with Greece over the nation’s name. Athens vetoed Macedonia’s entry into NATO in 2008 because of the impasse. European officials have warned Macedonia that a failure to meet international electoral standards would seriously harm the country’s prospects of joining the EU. Foreign ambassadors in the capital Skopje have praised the polling arrangements but say there have been signs of voter intimidation in the country which has a history of volatile ethnic relations.