Macedonia's president killed in plane crash

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The Independent Online

Macedonia's president, a moderate leader credited for helping to unite his ethnically divided country, was killed today when his plane crashed in bad weather in mountainous southern Bosnia en route to an international investment conference.

The Macedonian government aircraft, carrying President Boris Trajkovski and six other officials to the conference in the western Bosnian city of Mostar, crashed near the village of Bitonja shortly after 8 am (0700 GMT), officials said. There were no survivors.

Bosnian police said they found wreckage of the US–made Beechcraft Super King Air 200 twin–engine turboprop near the village about 80 kilometres south of Sarajevo. Trajkovski, his delegation and two pilots were aboard.

"We received confirmation from our patrols that they have found the wreckage of the Macedonian plane and that there are no survivors," Nedzad Vejzagic, spokesman for the Interior Ministry of Bosnia's Muslim–Croat federation, told The Associated Press.

Bosnian officials said they would form a commission to investigate the cause of the accident. Macedonia's government planned to convene an emergency session later in the day. Macedonia's state media aired only classical music and urgent news items after announcing the crash.

Rain, heavy cloud cover and thick fog in the area had prompted Albania's prime minister, Fatos Nano, to cancel his own flight to the conference. Nano sent his condolences to the Macedonian government for its "tragic and painful loss."

Macedonia was to formally submit its application for eventual membership in the European Union today in Ireland, but cancelled the presentation and called its delegation back from Dublin, officials said.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, described Trajkovski as having "contributed hugely to reconciliation in Macedonia" and as a strong supporter of Macedonia's ambition to become an EU member.

"Today should have been one of celebration for him," Ahern said in a statement. "I have conveyed my deep sympathy to Prime Minister (Branko) Crvenkovski on behalf the European Union and the government and people of Ireland."

Trajkovski, 47, studied theology in the United States, where he gave up communism and converted from Orthodox Christianity. He was elected president in November 1999. An ordained Methodist minister, his powers were divided with those of Macedonia's prime minister.

He was widely respected in Macedonia for his neutral stance in the former Yugoslav republic, where tensions persist between Macedonians and the country's ethnic Albanian minority following a 2001 war. He had called for a great inclusion of ethnic Albanians in state bodies and institutions.