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News 07 May 15

Macedonia Protesters Return to Streets After Clashes

Several thousand mostly young people rallied in Skopje for a second consecutive day against alleged police brutality, demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska.

Meri Jordanovska
BIRN
Skopje
The protesters gathered in front of the Macedonian parliament. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP

The protesters gathered in front of the Macedonian parliament on Wednesday evening after clashes with riot police the previous day, amid simmering political tensions between the government and opposition sparked by the release of a series of wiretapped recordings allegedly implicating top officials in serious wrongdoings.

There was a heavy security presence after Tuesday’s clashes, during which police said 38 police officers and one protester were injured and 30 people arrested. Police blocked all the streets near the government building, where the rally was initially meant to be held on Wednesday.

The protesters, mainly aged between 20 and 30, called for the resignation of Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska, who they consider responsible for trying to cover up the authorities’ responsibility for murder of a young man, Martin Neskoski, who was killed by a policeman on June 6, 2011.

"We are gathered here in large numbers, we will get together again tomorrow and every day until we see command responsibility for the killing of Martin,” said the dead man’s brother, Aleksandar Neskoski.

Some of the protesters brought flowers and tried to give them to police officers, while shouting slogans like “You should protect us”, “Put your shields down”, and “No justice, no peace”.

The protests continued for more than five hours and remained relatively calm, even though members of sports fan groups threw bottles at police officers. Around 20 young women tried to stop them, making a human shield in front of the police cordon to prevent more serious clashes erupting.

“Provocateurs, go home,” the young women shouted at the bottle-throwing fans.

The protest ended around 11 pm local time, but the heavy police presence remained, particularly in front of the government building where special units were reinforced with water cannons and armoured vehicles.

The previous protest on Tuesday began after the opposition Social Democrats aired alleged wiretapped telephone recordings of Interior Minister Jankuloska, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and other top officials, which suggested they plotted to cover up official responsibility for the high-profile murder of Neskoski.

Police brought in armoured vehicles and water cannon as they attempted to disperse the protesters, some of whom had thrown eggs and apples at the government building. During the offensive, and later in the night, police arrested dozens of protesters in central Skopje.

A young ruling party sympathiser, Neskoski 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 PM 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 on May 17 aimed at ousting Gruevski’s government. However, anger sparked by the revelations about the Neskoski killing caused young protesters including members of the Student Plenum and NGO activists to take to the streets earlier.

A young woman offers a flower to police officers blocking the street at the Government building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Protestors sit in front of the Parliament building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
A group of protestors raise their hands to stop a small group of protestors throwing eggs and bottles toward the police, during a protest in front of the Parliament building in Skopje. | Photo by Boris Grdanoski/AP
Protester stands in front of the police officer in Skopje. | Photo by BIRN
Protests in Skopje. | Photo by BIRN

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