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The Demir Kapija ophiolitic complex in southern Macedonia–FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) represents the southernmost exposure of the Tethyan Eastern Vardar ophiolitic unit in the Eastern Mediterranean. It consists of a mafic volcanic sequence (pillow basalts, sheeted dyke diabases and gabbros) that was subsequently intruded by island arc magmas with and without adakitic affinity. The mafic volcanic sequence is characterized by slightly increased ratios of large ion lithophile elements to high field strength elements (LILE/HFSE), flat rare earth element (REE) patterns, radiogenic 143Nd/144Nd (up to 0·51272) and high TiO2 contents (which reflect Pl + Ol + Cpx fractionation). The relationship between TiO2 and MgO contents indicates that Ti saturation was eventually reached and that Ti-magnetite fractionated. The mafic volcanic sequence of the ophiolite complex formed around 166·4 Ma in a short-lived intra-oceanic back-arc basin by slab roll-back of the Western Vardar Ocean. The rocks with and without adakitic affinity are spatially and temporally closely related. Their crystallization age is around 164 Ma. Our data suggest that two subgroups of arc lavas evolved as discrete volcanic lineages that are not related by fractional crystallization of a common parental magma, and that two different parental magmas are required. The arc lavas with adakitic affinity show some of the typical features of adakites; that is, low heavy REE, elevated Sr/Y, high LILE and high light REE. Major and trace element compositions of clinopyroxene phenocrysts resemble those of typical adakite-derived clinopyroxene. The very high Th/La, Th/Yb and Ba/Yb ratios and the reduced 143Nd/144Nd values (around 0·51245) of the rocks with adakitic affinity are considered to reflect contributions of sedimentary material to their mantle source. By analogy with adakites, these rocks are interpreted as the product of slab + sediment melting in an unusually hot subduction zone (subduction of young oceanic crust). In contrast, the arc lavas without adakitic affinity are related to a different parental melt, similar to common arc magmas. The Demir Kapija ophiolite formed in a short-lived intra-oceanic back-arc basin during subduction initiation within a back-arc. The arc intrusions are related to the change from an extensional to a compressional regime.