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North Macedonia joins NATO, adopts alliance's COVID-19 response tool

The North Macedonian flag, left, will be raised at NATO headquarters Monday following news that the country has officially joined the alliance. The NATO flag is shown at right. Photo courtesy of NATO
The North Macedonian flag, left, will be raised at NATO headquarters Monday following news that the country has officially joined the alliance. The NATO flag is shown at right. Photo courtesy of NATO

March 27 (UPI) -- North Macedonia became the newest member of NATO Friday.

"North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of thirty nations and almost one billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all stronger and safer together," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper welcomed the country to the alliance via Twitter.

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On Tuesday, North Macedonia began the formal application process to join the European Union.

NATO allies signed the country's accession protocol in February 2019, and all 29 national parliaments subsequently voted to ratify its membership, according to the alliance.

"In a very difficult moment for our country, for Europe and for the whole world, today we have received beautiful and long-awaited news from Brussels: The Republic of Northern Macedonia is starting negotiations for EU membership. The EU General Affairs Council has agreed that our country should start accession negotiations with the EU as soon as possible," North Macedonian prime minister Oliver Spasovski said in the country's official announcement.

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Stoltenberg is expected to attend a flag-raising ceremony for North Macedonia in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday, along with NATO military committee air chief marshal Sir Stuart Peach and Zoran Todorov, the Chargé d'Affaires of the Delegation of North Macedonia to NATO.

NATO also announced Friday that North Macedonia has adopted NATO's Next Generation Incident Command System to coordinate its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and provide the public with rapid updates.

The system was created to allow smoother coordination between government agencies and nonprofits providing disaster response, and to provide the public with real-time information on the current status of the pandemic in their area, as well as information on where to seek supplies like food and medicine.

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