North Macedonia elects Albanian as caretaker PM

SKOPJE (Reuters) - North Macedonia's parliament elected Talat Xhaferi to head a caretaker government on Sunday, the first time an Albanian has held the position, and he will lead the country until general elections scheduled for early May take place.

Xhaferi served as the speaker in parliament before he was nominated by the ruling government coalition to become prime minister. The current government's main task is to secure fair and free elections.

Xhaferi got 65 votes in the 120-seat parliament but the opposition party boycotted the vote even though it will have a few seats in the caretaker government.

"I will do this duty with trust, honour and high responsibility," Xhaferi told lawmakers before the vote.

Xhaferi becoming PM marks the first time an Albanian has held such a high office in the country. Albanians make up about 29.5% of the population of North Macedonia which has about 1.8 million people.

The elections are due to be held on May 8, where the biggest issue for the new parliament and government will be changing constitution to recognise a Bulgarian minority.

In exchange, Bulgaria will allow its West Balkan neighbour to start membership talks with the European Union.

The country has seen many internal ups and downs since 2001 when fighting broke out between government troops and ethnic Albanian rebels demanding more rights.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Ognen Teofilovski. Editing by Jane Merriman)