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Independence anniversary celebrated

About 200,000 people have gathered in Macedonia's capital Skopje to attend celebrations for the Balkan country's 20th anniversary of independence.

The small, landlocked nation of two million was the only former Yugoslav republic to secede without bloodshed in 1991.

However violence broke out a decade later, as government forces put down an armed uprising by ethnic Albanians seeking greater rights for the minority that makes up about a quarter of the population.

On Friday, analysts say Macedonia is still seeking to avoid sliding back into conflict. The county has been locked in a bitter dispute over its name with Greece, which says the term Macedonia implies territorial claims on its own province of the same name.

Ties with its other neighbours, Bulgaria and Serbia, have also been testy, while the government has kept a wary eye on neighbouring Kosovo, Europe's newest country, which was recognised as an independent state in 2008 and whose population is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.

The name dispute with Greece in particular has had serious consequences, with Athens preventing Macedonia from joining Nato until the issue is resolved.

"Macedonia's legal identity has not been defined internationally yet, because of the problem with the country's name with Greece," political activist Risto Nikovski, a former diplomat and member of Macedonia's President Council for International Relations, said. "For that reason, fears still exist of new conflicts and reshaping the borders in the troubled Balkans, particularly now with the fragile situation in Bosnia and Kosovo."

The festivities took place around newly erected statues of national heroes in Skopje, grandiose buildings such as a new Triumph Arch and spectacular fountains with water jet displays and national songs. A parade, theatre and ballet displays, fireworks and concerts were also being held, with people being bussed in to the capital for free from across the country.

Government officials, dignitaries and members of the National Guard walked in a procession carrying the Declaration of Independence from Yugoslavia to a new national history museum.

However some among the country's ethnic minority take a dimmer view of the nationalistic fervour.

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