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News 07 Jun 13

Macedonian Protesters Lay Siege to Skopje City Hall

Violent mob surrounds Skopje’s Centar municipality building, breaking windows and protesting against the mayor's alleged plan - which he denies - to demolish a church.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic



 Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Several hundred protesters gathered around the hall of Skopje's opposition-run Centar municipality on Friday, smashing windows and trapping local politicians inside.

At least one municipal employee was injured from flying glass.

Police stood by as protesters shattered windows and banged on the walls and doors of the building.

The protesters, government supporters, shouted “Communist Scum!” and “Muslims!”, at the municipal council and at the new Mayor, Andrej Zernovski.

"Who is he [Zernovski] to destroy a church? Is he a Christian or a Muslim? If he is Muslim, let him get out of the country," one angry protestor told the media.

The protest came after a non-governmental group called ”Veritas” said the newly elected Mayor, Andrej Zernovski, planned to demolish an Orthodox church that is under construction. The municipality has denied the report, saying the Mayor had no such plans.

Government supporters have condemned Zernovski, who became Mayor as candidate of the opposition in March–April local elections, after he announced plans to probe the costly revamp of the capital called "Skopje 2014" and call a referendum on the project.

After the violent interruption of a municipal session, the Mayor was evacuated from the building by municipal security.

The Mayor said he had wanted to address the protesters in person but was advised by police not to try to do so.

“I asked to address the protesters to explain categorically that we do not plan to destroy the church under construction, or any other building, but I was told it was not safe,” Zernovski told the media later.

Journalist Attacked During the Protest

Macedonian journalist Biljana Sekulovska was attacked by the mob during the protest.

“When I tried to record the protesters in the vicinity of the municipal building, I was attacked by several of them,” Sekulovska told Balkan insight.

"I was asking the police officers nearby for help but they just stood by in silence. Finally a senior police officer came and took me away from the protesters,” Sekulovska said.

Sekulovska, an editor at web based NOVA.TV, was a prominent journalists of the now defunct A1 TV, once the most popular TV station in the country.

The remaining council members were blocked inside the building on Friday afternoon, as protesters continued banging on the walls and windows.

The 30 metre-high church in question is under construction in the downtown area with the approval of the previous municipal leadership and the former mayor, Zoran Todorovic, a member of Macedonia's ruling VMRO DPMNE party.

The church is popularly dubbed, “Gruevski’s church” after Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Violence in connection with the church broke out in March 2009 when a group of religious militants clashed with Skopje architecture students who were protesting against the construction project.

The violence assumed a political dimension when Prime Minister Gruevski sided with the militants and accused the students of acting as fronts for the opposition.

The location of the church, originally intended for the main square, was later moved by several hundred metres. The government then distanced itself from its construction in deference to the secular charactar of the state.

The church is now being built by an organization called Sts Constantine and Helena, through donations.



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