The conservative government's critics say the country can't afford to wait for the 2012 elections [AFP]

More than 10,000 supporters of Macedonia's leading opposition party protested in the country's capital to call for early elections. The protesters accused the conservative government of mismanaging the economy and criticising its failure to bring the country closer to the EU and Nato.

"Macedonia is defeated on all fields," Branko Crvenkovski, head of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), told the crowd at a rally on Sunday.

"By the end of the year we will officially demand that parliament be dissolved and early elections called," he added. "We are not reconciling ourselves with the misery and poverty."

Macedonia's next regular elections are due in 2012, but the government's critics say the country can't afford to wait that long.

"We are not reconciling ourselves with the misery and poverty"

Branko Crvenkovski, opposition leader

Participants of the protest marched under the slogan "It's enough! Fight for the future" through central Skopje to gather in front of the parliament building.

The opposition held similar protests in October in Prilep and last month in Stip, both in central Macedonia.

Crvenkovski accuses the government of failing to secure economic growth in the country, which has suffered the impact of the global economic and
financial crisis.

Macedonian citizens are becoming increasingly sceptical of EU policies towards their nation, according to a poll conducted in November by the Rating agency.

Three-quarters of participants said they do not trust the EU, compared to 44 per cent two years ago, the WAZ Media Group reported.

The protest comes a day after the country’s foreign minister, Antonio Milosoki, wrote to his EU counterparts to seek their support at the Council of Europe meeting later this month for a date to begin the talks.

"Macedonia will continue its reforms aimed [at making] progress in its efforts to implement EU standards," Milososki said in the letter.

Macedonia has been an EU candidate country since 2005, but its accession talks have yet to start as neighbouring Greece - which has a northern province of the same name - has been blocking the move.

In 2009, the European Commission recommended that accession talks be opened, saying that Macedonia had met all the necessary conditions.
 
Yet Skopje and Athens have been at loggerheads over the right to the name Macedonia since the former Yugoslav republic proclaimed independence in 1991.

UN-led negotiations to resolve the issue have so far failed.

In 2008 Greece blocked Macedonia's NATO membership and has been opposing the start of EU-accession talks.

Macedonia was recognised by the United Nations in 1993 under the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies