Albanian language now official in Macedonia

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The Independent Online

Macedonia's parliament yesterday approved nine new laws that make Albanian an official language, overwhelmingly adopting measures mandated by a peace deal that ended six months of fighting last year.

Macedonia's parliament yesterday approved nine new laws that make Albanian an official language, overwhelmingly adopting measures mandated by a peace deal that ended six months of fighting last year.

The laws make it possible to use the language in all government matters, a key concession to insurgents who took up arms last year demanding to be recognised as being equal with the Macedonians. Deputies voted on each law separately, but the central law in the package, which dealt with the use of Albanian in government settings, passed 88-3, with the remaining deputies abstaining.

The 120-seat parliament had debated the package for weeks. The laws also include a separate regulation calling for the use of both languages in a census in November. Lawmakers are considering a number of other laws outlined in the peace plan signed last August.

Ethnic Albanian rebels launched an insurgency in February 2001, claiming they were fighting for more rights for their minority, which accounts for about a third of the country's two million population.

The fighting ended when the Macedonians and ethnic Albanians signed a peace agreement that traded a handover of weapons for the promise that legislation would be passed giving the minority community a greater say in the governing of this Balkan country.

After the deal, Nato troops collected weapons from the rebels, who disbanded. Parliament amended the constitution, upgraded some minority rights and passed an amnesty for the former rebels. (AP)

* Four children suffocated after being trapped in a wooden bin on a remote farm in northern Lithuania, police said yesterday. The bodies of the children, aged four to 10, were discovered on a farm outside Deglenai, a village of 400 people, 160km (100 miles) from Vilnius, the capital.

Police believe the children closed themselves in the huge wooden bin while playing in the barn and could not lift the lid to escape, detective Kestutis Mikalauskas said. The victims were eight-year-old Dalius Noreika, five-year-old Alvyda Noreikaite, four-year-old Nerijus Noreika and a neighbour 10-year-old Jonas Jurevicius.

Virginijus Bakanauskas, 27, an uncle looking after them while their parents were haymaking had started searching for them the afternoon before.

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