News 05 Jul 14

Macedonia Protest Unrest Leaves 20 Police Injured

Police have restored calm after ethnic Albanian protesters clashed with riot squads at a rally against the jailing of alleged extremist Muslims for the ‘terrorist’ murders of ethnic Macedonians.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Police said they were investigating on Saturday after 20 officers and several protesters sustained injuries in the previous day’s protests, which spokesperson Ivo Kotevski described as “extremely violent”.

“The police are examining the footage from the unrest. Criminal charges will be filed against all who will be identified. We still don’t know who the organizer of the protest is because the event was not reported [to the authorities],” Kotevski told a press conference late on Friday.

Running battles broke out in the city streets on Friday after ethnic Albanian protesters rallied to show their anger at the life sentences handed down to six alleged Muslim radicals for the killing of five ethnic Macedonians at Orthodox Easter in 2012, in a case that raised ethnic tensions in the country.

Although Skopje was calm again on Saturday morning, Kotevski said that police remained on standby at various critical points in the capital.

He said that officers would “follow the social networks through which the mobilization for the violent protest happened”.

Friday’s protest, which started after the midday prayers in mosques in the Albanian-dominated Skopje municipality of Cair, quickly turned violent as the crowd, mainly made up of young men, charged towards the Skopje Criminal Court, throwing stones and bricks at the building and the police.

The police responded with water cannon, stun grenades and tear gas, preventing the crowd from advancing towards the government building and forcing the protesters back to Cair.

The several-hours-long clash resulted in caused damage to various buildings and cars as well as a series of injuries to police and protesters.

According to unofficial information several members of the press were also injured on Friday and the police appealed for them to report their injuries.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The protestors took to the streets after the jailing on terrorism charges last Monday of ethnic Albanians Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta.

They were convicted of killing five ethnic Macedonians in April 2012. The initial announcement in 2012 that the murderers might be ethnic Albanians also sparked protests by groups of ethnic Macedonians, some of which turned violent.

The defence has said it will appeal against the convictions, while the prosecution said it will appeal against the release of the seventh defendant, Sejdi Rama, who was acquitted on the basis of lack of evidence.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The country’s top politician has yet to comment on the terrorism verdict or the violence. While the court was reaching the verdict on Monday, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was at an official visit to Japan. During the violence on Friday, he was in China.

The latest protest unrest comes after two days of violent, ethnically-charged protests gripped the capital last year, sparked by the controversial appointment of an Albanian ex-guerrilla Talat Xhaferi as defence minister.

In 2001, Macedonia went through a brief armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of a peace deal that increased Albanian rights.

Albanians make up a quarter of the country’s 2.1 million population.

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