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Balkan leaders wary of Macedonia crisis fallout

Albanian President Bujar Nishani, left, meets with visiting Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Tirana, Tuesday May 26, 2015, during the South East European Cooperation Process summit, a regional grouping of 13 Balkan and eastern European countries. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s president and other Balkan leaders expressed concern Tuesday that the ongoing crisis in Macedonia could be a setback for the region’s efforts to add new members to the European Union.

President Bujar Nishani told regional leaders meeting in Tirana that the Macedonia crisis showed the “fragility of stability in the region.”

Macedonia is grappling with a political crisis triggered by wiretapping allegations against the government, while tension has been stoked by a shootout this month between police and suspected ethnic Albanian militants that left 18 dead.

The leaders were meeting as part of the 13-nation South-East European Cooperation Process. Five of its members are in the EU, while five others are candidates.

“We must preserve a stable region to promote integration,” Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta told a news conference.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said the crisis in Macedonia demonstrated the “need to reaffirm our support for the independence and the territorial integrity of the country.”

The summit brought together representatives of west Balkan countries with long-troubled relations, including Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia.

It was held a day ahead of the landmark visit to Tirana by Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the first to Albania by a Serbian premier.

Countries at the summit reaffirmed a commitment to support each other’s EU membership drives, and cooperate with a global coalition against violent extremism and terrorism

Tuesday’s meeting marked the end of Albania’s one-year presidency of the regional body, which passed to Bulgaria.

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