News 01 Mar 13

Macedonia Protest Against Defence Minister Turns Violent

Riots broke out in Skopje after police tried to disperse an unruly protest against the appointment of former ethnic Albanian rebel Talat Xhaferi as Macedonia's new defence chief.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Several hundred young people threw stones at riot police in front of the government building in Skopje on Friday after what had initially been announced on social networks as a peaceful protest against Xhaferi's appointment, organised by police and army veterans from the 2001 armed conflict between Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

“We Still Remember”, one banner read, referring to veterans who lost their lives or were injured in battles with the now disbanded ethnic Albanian insurgent force, the National Liberation Army, NLA, with which Xhaferi served as a commander.

The violence escalated when the police tried to force the protesters away from the government building and sporadic clashes broke out between the police and smaller groups of demonstrators which spread throughout the city centre and on to the main ‘Macedonia’ square.

Several people were injured and at least ten were arrested during the running battles but police prevented the protesters from crossing River Vardar into an Albanian-dominated part of the city.

Xhaferi, a key figure on the ethnic Albanian side in the 2001 conflict, took office last week.

But the head of the small Dignity party, Stojance Angelov, which represents army and police veterans, condemned it as a “humiliating act” and a “national catastrophe”.

The party also announced a campaign for a public vote to dismiss Xhaferi from his new office.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Xhaferi made little comment apart from saying during his inauguration that he would seek to make the armed forces “a symbol of coexistence, tolerance and respect for differences”.

His Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, said that the campaign waged against the new minister had “deeply political motives”.

In 2001 Macedonia went through a short but violent conflict between the now-disbanded NLA and the security forces. Clashes ended the same year with the signing of a peace accord that gave more rights to Albanians who make up a quarter of the population.

The ex-fighters were granted an amnesty and shortly after formed the DUI, which has since become the most popular ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

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