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Bulgaria to block start of Macedonia-EU talks

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(SOFIA) - Bulgaria said Tuesday it will block Macedonia's bid to set a starting date for EU accession talks later this week, after earlier lashing out at what it sees as Skopje's nationalistic rhetoric.

"Bulgaria will not be among the states to designate a date for starting negotiations with our southwestern neighbour," President Rosen Plevneliev and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in a joint statement.

The European Union's 27 members are expected to decide whether to grant Macedonia a starting date for talks at a European Council meeting in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

An EU candidate since 2005, Macedonia has seen the opening of negotiation talks blocked by a name dispute with its southern neighbour Greece.

Borisov and Plevneliev said they "support the European perspective of the Republic of Macedonia."

But they added: "Bulgaria's support is not unconditional and depends on the fulfilment of the membership criteria, with a priority on good neighbourly relations."

Plevneliev already took a swipe at Skopje last week, urging it to stop what it saw as an anti-Bulgarian campaign, citing an "ever more nationalistic rhetoric, discriminatory attitude towards the citizens who define themselves as Bulgarian and obstacles to Bulgarian businessmen."

Bulgaria was the first country to recognise the Republic of Macedonia under its constitutional name when it broke from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, but the two countries have been at loggerheads over how they interpret large periods of their history.

Bulgarian historians also insist that Macedonians have Bulgarian roots and that their language is a Bulgarian dialect, which Skopje denies.

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