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News 06 May 15

Macedonian Police Hunt Down Protesters

Riot police accused of using brute force to disperse an anti-government protest, which started in Skopje after the opposition published wiretapped conversations allegedly showing officials tried to cover up the murder of a young man.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje

Photo by BIRN

Rights groups and NGOs said Macedonian police used excessive force when they deployed tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades to disperse thousands of angry protesters gathered in front of the government HQ on Tuesday evening.

The interior minister Gordana Jankulovsa said that 38 police officers and one civilian were injured during the unrest, and that 30 people were arrested. She denied that the police used excessive force and insisted that police merely reacted when they were attacked.

Dozens of people were arrested as the long-running political crisis between the Macedonian government and the opposition escalated significantly.

The protest began after the opposition Social Democrats on Tuesday afternoon aired alleged wiretapped telephone recordings of interior minister Gordna Jankuloska, prime minister Nikola Gruevski and other top officials, which suggest they plotted to cover up official responsibility for the high-profile murder of a young man, Martin Neskovski, by a policeman on June 6, 2011.

Angry protesters, including Neskoski's mother and brother, started gathering in front of the government in the afternoon, demanding the resignation of Jankuloska and the government. The crowd, apparently assisted by a sympathetic police officer who left his guard post, initially broke through a police barricade and was stopped at only few metres from the government building's main entrance.

Inside the government building at the same time, Jankuloska was holding a press conference to repeat the government line that the tapes were cut, edited and created by unnamed "foreign secret services" in collaboration with the opposition in order to destabilise the country. She said she was not planning to resign.

The demonstration in front of the government lasted until late in the evening as protesters, joined by human rights activists, lowered flags in front of the building to half mast, chanted the Macedonian national anthem and slogans such as "No justice, no peace" at police officers. Some also threw eggs and apples at the building, breaking several windows.

After 9pm local time, police brought in armored vehicles and water cannon as they launched a push to disperse the protesters. During the offensive, and later in the night, police arrested dozens of protesters in central Skopje.

The rights NGO CIVIL-Centre for Freedom, the student movement Student's Plenum and the leftist Lenka group were among several organizations that complained that their activists were beaten by the police and that the police violence that followed the demonstration was unwarranted and excessive.

Several video recordings appeared over the night showing disturbing images of arrests on the streets of Skopje after the protest was quelled.

Students posted video footage of what appeared to be a police raid on the Brakja Miladinovici library in Skopje while students were inside. One shot shows injuries sustained by several students after the raid.

While the ruling VMRO DPMNE blamed the protest on the opposition and its "dark scenario" aimed at causing violence, the Social Democrats’ leader, Zoran Zaev, used social networks to call for peaceful protests and to urge the police to restrain from using force.


The protest provoked reactions of sympathy by former EU ambassador to Macedonia Erwan Fouere and by former Dutch ambassador Simone Filippini.

"No stone palace, no matter how thick the walls, will protect those hiding inside, who have lost all credibility and legitimacy to remain in government, from the will of the people. It’s high time for change," Fouere wrote on Twitter.

Filippini wrote: "Time for change in Macedonia. With positive governance and responsible leadership the country could flourish in no time."

A young ruling party sympathiser, Neskovski was beaten to death on the night that the Gruevski's ruling VMRO DPMNE celebrated its election victory on June 6, 2011. The killing, attributed to a police officer who later was convicted, sparked protests against alleged police brutality that lasted for two months.

For nearly two days, the police denied the incident had happened but then changed their story, confirming the victim’s identity and claiming they had the murder suspect in custody - Igor Spasov, a member of a special police unit called the Tigers.

Officials insisted that Spasov was not on duty at the time and so they were not responsible for the murder. But the tapes released by the opposition on Tuesday suggested that there was a plot to pin the murder on the policemen alone and avoid responsibility falling on higher officials.

The opposition Social Democrats started releasing wiretapped tapes in February, accusing Gruevski and his cousin, secret police chief Mijalkov, of orchestrating the illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people over several years, including journalists, judges, prosecutors, mayors and even government ministers.

As the political crisis in the country heated up, the Social Democrats announced they would launch mass demonstrations later this month aimed at ousting Gruevski’s government.

Protestors take a selfie in front of a police cordon during a demonstration in front of the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Police officers protect themselves with shields as protesters throw eggs during a demonstration in front of the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
 A protestor gives a flower to a police officer during a protest in front of the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Protestors confront the police during a protest in front of the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Protestors clash with police during a protest in front of the Government building. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
 A woman lifts her hands up in front of the police during a protest in front of the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
People raise their hands during a protest in front of the Government building. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Police block protestors at the entrance of the Government building during a protest in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
A police officer tries to help an injured colleague after clashes with protesters. | Photo by Vangel Tanurovski/AP
Protesters burn trash containers and throw stones at the police during a protest in Skopje. | Photo by Vangel Tanurovski/AP
Police arrest protesters after clashes. | Photo by Vangel Tanurovski/AP
olice clash with protesters at the government building. | Photo by Vangel Tanurovski/AP
Protesters burn trash containers trying to block the police during a protest in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Interior minister Gordana Jankulovska. | Photo by BIRN
Protesters raise hands in front of the police. | Photo by BIRN
Photo by BIRN
Photo by BIRN

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