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Macedonia prepares for ethnic and religious friction on Friday and over the weekend as both Albanians and Macedonians in the country use social networks to organise parallel protests.
At the protest in Skopje last week some Albanians wore t-shirts saying "Islam will dominate the world" | Photo by: AP/Boris Grdanoski
Albanian activists in Macedonia are using Twitter and Facebook to organise street protests in Skopje, Tetovo, Gostivar, Debar, Struga and other places right after the midday prayer on Friday.
The rallies are directed against police arrests of so-called radical Islamists, wanted in connection to last month’s murders of five people near Skopje.
The web portal teuhid.net, which tackles issues related to Albanians and Islam, urges Albanian Muslims to draw inspiration from the "Arab Spring" in their battle against the "injustices" imposed by the “Slavic” Macedonian government.
In a text on that site, the protests are described as part of a larger plan that among other things envisages blockades of police stations and revealing the identities of ethnic Albanians who work in the Macedonian police and who are deemed to be traitors.
Another group on Facebook meanwhile summons ethnic Macedonians to a rally on Saturday in front of the government building in support of the police action. A movement called “Macedonian United Forces-Prilep” also lends support to the rally. On its web page the movement calls for war against Albanians in the country.
In both cases it is not clear who exactly stands behind the calls for rallies.
“The language used on social networks is pretty improper," Police Minister Gordana Jankulovska said.
“We will take all measures to protect legal order and the rule of law. If someone breaks the laws we will react and sanction them most severely,” she added.
On April 12 the bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on April 12 near Zelezarsko Ezero on the northern outskirts of the capital, a popular fishing destination. The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was a short distance away from the rest.
The murder sharply raised ethnic tensions between Macedonians and country’s largest Albanian minority, as rumors spread that the killers were Albanian.
Police on May 1 arrested 20 ethnic Albanians in an operation in several villages around the capital in relation to the murders. A court later ordered 30 days' detention for nine of the arrested.
Recent graffiti in Skopje | Photo by: Balkan Insight
Meanwhile, police have filed terrorism and murder charges against five people that they say organized and carried out the killings, three of whom have been arrested. The other two are believed to have fled the country.
Despite calls for restraint, on May 4 over a thousand ethnic Albanians took to the streets after the midday prayer in Skopje, accusing the authorities of setting up innocent Albanians and unjustly portraying them as terrorists.
Some protestors wore shirts saying “Islam Victorious” and “Islam will dominate the world”. Minor clashes with the police were reported but no one was injured.
Alajdin Demiri, former mayor of the mainly Albanian western town of Tetovo, is worried that fresh protests will strain already fragile inter-ethnic relations.
“The reactions are still controllable and there is still a possibility for political action and a solution to the murder case,” Demiri said. But, “I get the sense that the government is calculating when it comes to finding the real killers, whoever they might be,” he added.
In its first reaction to the arrests, on Tuesday the Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, condemned the killings near Skopje and urged the police to provide firm evidence against the murder suspects in order to clear any suspicions that it is pursuing the wrong people.
The recent murders near Skopje have fuelled concerns that Macedonia is again heading towards all-out ethnic conflict.