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Albania says could block Macedonia’s NATO bid

Albanian prime minister Edi Rama speaks at a U.S.-sponsored anti-terrorism regional meeting in Albania's capital Tirana, Wednesday, May 20, 2015. Rama warned Macedonia it cannot join the NATO family unless it respects the democratic rights of its ethnic Albanian minority, considering "unacceptable" how Macedonian authorities linked a recent gunbattle between police and a group of armed ethnic Albanian men as a terrorist act from the latter. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama warned on Wednesday that his country could block Macedonia’s bid to join NATO unless it improves its record on respecting the rights of the country’s ethnic Albanian minority.

The tiny republic’s accession has already been blocked by neighbor Greece because of a dispute over the republic’s name.

Rama gave the warning while speaking an anti-terrorism conference in the capital, Tirana.

Relations between to the two Balkan neighbors have further soured following a shootout in northern Macedonia this month between police and suspected ethnic Albanian militants that left eight officers and 10 others dead.

Rama accused Macedonia’s government of using the attack to try to tarnish the entire Albanian minority.

“Unfortunately the word ‘terrorism’ and the word ‘Albanian’ have been combined in a reckless attempt to give terrorism an ethnic label,” he said.

Macedonia, in one of its deepest political crises since gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, has a sizeable ethnic Albanian minority which has been decisive in forming governing coalitions.

Albania became a NATO member in 2009.

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