By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov on Wednesday mandated Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev to form a coalition government with ethnic Albanian parties after holding off for nearly six months, raising hopes for an end to a two-year political deadlock.
Ivanov had refused to issue the required mandate for the new coalition on grounds that it could empower Macedonia's ethnic Albanians, its largest minority, and thereby pose a threat to sovereignty.
But at a ceremony with Ivanov on Wednesday, Zaev handed him a written guarantee that the coalition would not undermine Macedonia's constitutional order or sovereignty.
Ivanov then said: "The obstacle for giving the mandate for a new government has now been removed."
Zaev said he expects the government to be formed in 10 days. The coalition agreement was struck after national elections in December.
Macedonia has been without a functioning government since 2015, when it fell into turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the ruling nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party bloc.
The former Yugoslav republic wants to join the European Union but its efforts have been hampered by political turmoil.
Ivanov's move was welcomed on Wednesday by EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and Johannes Hahn, in charge of enlargement.
"We hope that this constructive spirit will continue to prevail so that the country can finally come out of the political crisis," they said in a joint statement.
"We call on all parliamentary parties to put their divisions aside and work jointly on a common reform agenda, to bring the country back on its Euro-Atlantic integration path. This is what the people want and deserve."
Macedonian nationalists stormed parliament earlier this month after the election to parliament speaker of Talat Xhaferi, Macedonia's parliament speaker, an ethnic Albanian and former guerrilla.
The group assaulted lawmakers and more than 100 people were injured. Both the EU and NATO - which Skopje also aspires to join - condemned the violence.
Xhaferi told Reuters by phone that any other action on Ivanov's part would have been devastating for Macedonia.
"I cannot say the crisis is over but this will open the way to put things in place institutionally," he said.
(Reporting by Kole Casule; Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in PRISTINA and Gabriela Baczynska in BRUSSELS; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)