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News 03 Mar 15

Macedonia Allows Police to Use Rubber Bullets

Amid rising political tensions and turbulent protests in Macedonia, parliament has given police a green light to use rubber bullets, stun guns and shock grenades to disperse protesters.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

 

Photo by: Wikimedia Commons/Mustafa Bader

With the support of 59 of the 122 deputies in parliament, Macedonia on Monday adopted changes to the Police Law allowing police to use rubber bullets to disperse violent crowds.

The police will now be allowed to use rubber bullets, stun guns and shock grenades if protesters who "violate the public order do not disperse on the call of the police".

Deputy Police Minister Zemri Kamili told parliament that police will be instructed to target protestors "in their lower extremities" to avoid causing severe injuries.

The police say the measures are nothing new in practice but only serve to codify what is already in use.

"Their codification according to the legal provisions that regulate this segment of police work is necessary and significant," the Interior Ministry wrote in an explanation submitted to parliament.

In theory, until now, Macedonian police could only disperse crowds with batons, tear gas, water cannons and dogs.

The change was adopted without the presence of the opposition MPs who have boycotted parliament since the March April 2014 early general and presidential elections, claiming the ruling parties won them by fraud.

One professor, speaking off the record, said the introduction of rubber bullets was worrying. "Credible studies show that they are not safe and can cause lasting injuries and even death. Even Britain, which... used them extensively in Northern Ireland, banned their use in the 1970s after fatalities occurred," the professor, from the Faculty of Security in Skopje, told Balkan Insight.

"With the growing number of protests of late, I fear this will only encourage the police to use these measures more frequently," the same source added.

The change follow rising political tension in Macedonia. The opposition Social Democratic Party, SDSM, last month started revealing audio recordings, which it said prove that the government has conducted large-scale telephone surveillance.

The SDSM says Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and secret police chief Saso Mijalkov have been behind the whole operation.

The opposition has threatened to continue revealing compromising recordings, which it says were obtained from sources in the domestic secret service.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has denied the allegations, blaming the scandal on an unnamed "foreign secret service" that has been collaborating with SDSM leader Zoran Zaev. He has also acccused Zaev of trying to blackmail him in order to grab power, which Zaev has in turn denied.

Gruevski's ruling VMRO DPMNE party in a recent press release called on its members to "close ranks" in defence of the country.

In light of the eavesdropping row, human rights NGOs and activists have staged protests, demanding respect for democratic values, an end to the state grip over the mainstream media, adherence to the rule of law, and political accountability from the government.

Protests directed against the government started to increase at the end of last year, which is when the change to the Police Law was first announced.

In November and December, mass protests by students and university professors took place in Skopje and other towns against a plan to introduce external, state-supervised exams for graduates.

Also in December, thousands of contract and casual workers rallied against a government plan to increase their taxes from 10 to 35 per cent.

Last month, elementary and high school professors launched a two-week boycott of classes directed against bad working conditions.

The same month, a big protest march in Skopje demanded the resignation of Health Minister Nikola Todorov over the death of a child who was promised a state-funded operation abroad but did not get it in time.

 

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