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News 28 Apr 17

Macedonia Shaken by Violence in Parliament

Police used flash grenades to drive protesters out of parliament and evacuate MPs trapped inside after lawmakers including opposition leader Zoran Zaev were assaulted inside the legislature.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev [centre] was injured by the protesters. Photo: Anadolu Agency

Police moved in to restore order late Thursday after protesters supporting the former ruling VMRO DPMNE party stormed parliament, injuring at least four MPs.

The protesters forced their way in to the legislature after the former opposition led by the Social Democrats, SDSM, elected a parliamentary speaker in a bid to form a government.

Medical authorities reported that at least nine people were injured.

At least four MPs, all from the new parliamentary majority, including the SDSM leader Zoran Zaev and the head of the DPA- Movement for reforms, Zijadin Sela, were confirmed to have been injured and received medical treatment.

There was a heavy police presence into the night in Skopje's central area as several hundred protesters stayed in front of the parliament building, although the situation remained calm.

The violence began just after 6pm local time when a majority of 67 MPs in the 120-seat parliament elected the new parliament speaker, Talat Xhaferi – the next step towards the establishment of the new opposition-led coalition government.

"Dear citizens, my country, I congratulate you on the election of the new parliament speaker and God speed to all of us," SDSM leader Zoran Zaev told a press conference inside parliament, immediately before the former ruling VMRO DPMNE activists stormed the building.

The VMRO DPMNE party, which has been trying to avoid losing power by preventing the election of a new speaker for the past month, complained that the move was unlawful and called it an "attempted coup".

All through the evening, increasing numbers of protesters started entering parliament - facing little opposition from the police stationed there.

For a couple of hours, the protesters, some with black hoods over their heads, occupied the press hall, and the new majority MPs stranded inside were attacked.

Protesters also entered parliament’s plenary hall, where they sang patriotic songs and chanted for fresh elections, a demand in line with the stance of the VMRO DPMNE party.

Some of the protesters wore masks to hide their faces. Photo: Anadolu Agency

As increasing numbers of riot police units started to enter the parliament building, all remaining media crews were ushered out and the power was shut off.

The police then used concussion grenades to drive the pro-VMRO DPMNE protesters out of the building and evacuate the MPs and remaining journalists who were trapped inside. Some reporters have said that meanwhile they were attacked by groups of protesters.

In a short televised address, the VMRO DPMNE-backed Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov called for calm.

"I call upon the leaders of the parliamentary parties to come to my office tomorrow for a leaders’ meeting so that we can overcome this condition," Ivanov said.

He also called on all sides to refrain from violence, saying that the parliamentary rulebook and the legislative order had been breached today with the election of a new parliament speaker by the new majority.

But the SDSM blamed Ivanov, who since March 1 has refused to award the mandate to form a government to opposition leader Zoran Zaev, despite the fact that he has assembled a working majority.

The SDSM said Ivanov was "part of the scenario" responsible for the violence and for blocking a peaceful transition of power after the December 11 early elections.

The leader of the VMRO DPMNE, Nikola Gruevski, who was reportedly outside of the country, in Vienna, used Facebook to call for calm.

Gruevski insisted that his party will use "all democratic means" to block the election of the new parliament speaker and stop a new government taking office.

The US embassy in Skopje and the EU's Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn condemned the violence.

But they also said that the election of a new parliament speaker was a positive step forward.

"A majority of MPs elected Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of Parliament during a regular, continued session of parliament witnessed by members of the public and press. We will work with him to support democracy and to advance the interests of Macedonia," the US Embassy said in a press release.

Macedonia has not been able to elect a new government since December’s polls.

The crisis deepened on March 1, when President Ivanov refused to grant SDSM leader Zaev the mandate to form a government, insisting that it would jeopardize the country's sovereignty.

The SDSM said the VMRO DPMNE was afraid to lose power because its leaders fear standing trial.

Several senior party figures, including VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski, are currently facing criminal investigations and indictments by the Special Prosecution, SJO, which they claim are politically motivated.

Protester attacking an MP. Photo: Anadolu Agency
Opposition leader Zoran Zaev. Photo: Anadolu Agency

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