News 10 Jul 14

Macedonia Braces for Rival Ethnic Protests

Police are on alert after ethnic Albanian and Macedonian activists both called protests for Friday in the wake of unrest last week sparked by the convictions of alleged Islamist terrorists.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Last week's protests in Skopje | Photo: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Police spokesperson Ivo Kotevski said that officers were “closely monitoring social networks” ahead of the possible unauthorised protests on Friday and warned that “violent outbursts cannot be tolerated”.

His statement came after an anonymous flyer with the slogan “Macedonia for Macedonians” was distributed via social networks calling on the country’s majority ethnic Macedonians to rally on Friday afternoon in front of the government building “to show the government that we are not tenants in our own state”.

The protest is intended as a response to calls to the Albanian minority to rally again on Friday at the exactly the same time in the Albanian-dominated municipality of Cair, against the terrorism convictions of the alleged Albanian Islamists for the killing of five ethnic Macedonians.

The two rallies’ starting points are about one kilometre from each other, raising fears of renewed clashes in the capital.

Last Friday, running battles erupted on the streets of Skopje as several thousand mostly young Albanian protesters, angered by the verdict in the mass killing trial, tried to storm the Skopje criminal Court but were forced back by police.

Twenty police officers and an unidentified number of protesters were injured during the clashes as police used tear gas, shock grenades and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

Alleged Islamic extremists Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta were convicted of terrorism over the 2012 killings on June 30. The defence has announced that it will appeal.

The political leaders of the Albanian minority have demanded an internationally-monitored retrial in the case and a public presentation of the evidence.

DPA leader Menduh Thaci supports the protests but urged calm.

Ali Ahmeti, the head of the junior party in Macedonia's ruling coalition, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, demanded a transparent retrial on Tuesday.

His call was echoed on Wednesday by Menduh Thaci from the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, DPA – although he also said that the DUI had failed to use its influence in government to protect the community’s interests.

“The DUI is to blame for what happened. This party does not fulfill its promises. We should all be handed the court’s verdict in the ‘Monster’ case so that we can see whether indeed there are arguments for the sentences,” Thaci said.

He said he supported the protests but urged calm.

Meanwhile, smaller Albanian protests against the terrorism verdict have taken place in the past few days in several other towns in Macedonian and in neighbouring Kosovo and Albania.

In Tirana, several dozen people rallied carrying banners saying “Skopje - the heart of Albanians” and “Skopje is Albanian”. A protest by several hundred football fans in Pristina meanwhile saw the burning of the Macedonian flag.

In 2001, Macedonia went through a brief armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents and the security forces. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of a peace deal that increased Albanian rights.

Albanians make up a quarter of the country’s 2.1 million population.

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