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Police are bracing for trouble ahead of planned Albanian rallies against police arrests of suspects wanted in connnection to the recent killings in Skopje.
Skopje | Photo by: Maja Zlatevska
Macedonian police are on alert in the capital, Skopje, in Tetovo, Gostivar, Debar, Struga and other towns where ethnic Albanian activists, using Facebook and Twitter, have announced street protests after Friday’s midday prayers.
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.
Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov said the protests would be allowed but “must be calm and without any use of violence”.
Police Minister Gordana Jankulovska earlier warned that “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”.
It is not clear who exactly stands behind the protests. All ethnic Albanian parties in the country have denied involvement.
“The organizers probably have some [Muslim] religious motives and in these sensitive moments they are using the religious sentiments of the people,” Skopje-based political analyst Gjuner Ismail said.
“Those with bad intentions are manipulating these feelings and if this proceeds I would not be surprised if it causes counter-protests from the other religious community [Macedonian Orthodox Christians]," he added.
Macedonians are already drumming up support on social networks for a protest in front of the government on Saturday “against terrorism” and in support for the police action.
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 rumours 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. The police filed terrorism and murder charges against five people, three of whom have been arrested.
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.
The recent murders near Skopje have fuelled concerns that Macedonia is again heading towards all-out ethnic conflict.