Riot police fired tear gas at Albanian protesters on another day of violent demonstrations in Skopje over the controversial appointment of an ex-guerrilla as defence minister.
Photo by: Ognen Teofilovski
The authorities in Macedonia sent in riot police and armoured vehicles to disperse a violent protest in the capital Skopje on Saturday which erupted in response to mob attacks on Albanians after a previous violent demonstration on Friday against the appointment of former ethnic Albanian guerrilla commander Talat Xhaferi as the country's defence minister.
Hundreds of protesters pelted police with stones, burned a Macedonian flag and demolished a bus station in front of the government building in the capital.
Protesters chanted the name of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army, with which Xhaferi was a commander during battles with government security troops during the brief but violent 2001 conflict in Macedonia.
Police sources told BIRN that at least 15 people had been injured, mainly policemen, and as many arrested, but the demonstrators insisted they were fighting discrimination.
“We want to show that we do not agree with what has been happening in the last two years,” one of the protesters told Alsat M TV, referring to violent incidents between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians.
“We are angry and want to prove to the government that we are not hooligans, we are not backward and we do not want to harm anyone, we simply want to live together freely and comfortably,” the unnamed protester said.
The demonstration came in response to attacks on ethnic Albanians in Skopje that followed Friday's protest by Macedonian youths against Xhaferi's appointment as defence minister, which was considered as an insult by veterans who fought on the government's side during the conflict.
Clashes on Saturday continued into the afternoon as police drove the protesters back towards the Cair neighbourhood of the capital, where the demonstration started. Cars were destroyed and street signs pulled up along the route.
Hundreds of police in riot gear held the rioters back and a thick plume of black smoke rose from the Bit Pazar market in Cair, where demonstrators torched a bus.
On Friday, several hundred young ethnic Macedonians threw stones at riot police in front of the government building in Skopje after what had initially been announced as a peaceful protest against Xhaferi's appointment, organised by police and army veterans from the 2001 armed conflict between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Violence escalated when the police tried to force the protesters away from the government building and sporadic clashes broke out between the police and smaller groups of demonstrators which spread throughout the city centre and on to the main ‘Macedonia’ square.
Several people were injured and at least ten were arrested during the running battles but police prevented the protesters from crossing River Vardar into an Albanian-dominated part of the city.
Police said tensions remained high throughout the evening as mobs attacked people in various incidents throughout the city.
Xhaferi, a key figure on the ethnic Albanian side in the 2001 conflict, took office last week.