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Tuesday, 26 June, 2001, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Straw cancels Macedonia visit
Thousands of nationalists beseige Skopje's parliament building
Thousands of nationalists beseige Skopje's parliament building
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has called off a visit to the Macedonian capital Skopje as the former Yugoslav republic teetered on the brink of civil war.

He was due to have talks with political leaders to try to ease tensions between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians.

But after thousands of nationalists besieged the parliament building on Monday evening, the Foreign Office announced on Tuesday morning that the trip would not go ahead.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw - safety fears forced cancellation
"The foreign secretary has decided that it would not be appropriate in the light of events to go ahead with the visit," a spokesman said.

"The priority today is to calm the situation."

Some protesters broke into the legislature on Monday night, destroying furniture and displaying the old Macedonian flag banned by the communists more than 50 years ago, when the country was still part of Yugoslavia.

And Macedonia's army shelled a village in the northeast of the country held by ethnic Albanian rebels on Tuesday morning.

Mr Straw's trip was intended to underline British and European support for a political solution to the rumbling conflict.

European Union leaders have spent months trying to persuade the Macedonian Slav leadership and ethnic Albanian political leaders to compromise and avert a civil war.

EU foreign ministers told their Macedonian counterpart Ilinka Mitreava during talks in Luxembourg on Monday not to count on new financial aid unless the government and ethnic Albanian opponents settle their differences.

Fighting broke out in Macedonia in February when militants began taking over villages near the border with Kosovo, whose population is predominantly Albanian, to demand more rights for ethnic Albanians.

The rebels want more rights under the constitution.

The Macedonian Slavs reject that as a threat to the nation's integrity.

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26 Jun 01 | Europe
Macedonia on brink of chaos
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