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Minister appeals for calm after a disturbing spate of ethnic-related attacks on Skopje buses.
Photo by: Balkan Insight
Macedonia's police minister has appealed for calm following a spate of ethnic incidents on city buses.
In the first incident on Wednesday, a large group of masked men armed with baseball bats stormed a commuter bus in Skopje and beat up several young Albanians.
A few hours later there was another fracas on another bus, which resulted in the driver, several young men and an elderly woman being hospitalized.
On Thursday morning eyewitnesses said a group of ethnic Albanian school pupils boarded a bus and attacked two Macedonians.
“I do not exclude the fact that some people in Macedonia wish to disturb inter-ethnic relations,” Police Minister Gordana Jankulovska said on Thursday, urging “a calming of tensions” on all sides.
Ethnic relations have been troubled in Macedonia since a village carnival in January in western Macedonia at which participants wore masks mocking the Muslim faith.
On February 28 an off-duty Macedonian policeman who shot dead two young Albanians in the western town of Gostivar added to the tension. Protesting Albanians described the killings as ethnically motivated and accused the police of downplaying their significance.
In 2001 Macedonia suffered a short-lived armed conflict between the security forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents. The conflict ended the same year with the signing of the Ohrid Accord, which guaranteed greater rights to Albanians.
Sociology professor Hasan Jashari says that ethnic tensions are again on the rise, blaming poor political leadership among other things.
“We are strengthening our national identities instead of civic ones. People are increasingly confined within their own ethnic groups, widening the ethnic gap,” Jashari told Radio Free Europe.
Even before this week's incidents, police bulletins in recent days have been filled with confused reports of brawls and stabbings in the capital.
Last Saturday an 18-year-old boy was stabbed by a group of unknown perpetrators. Another 19-year-old boy was stabbed in the back and hospitalized on Tuesday in the Albanian dominated district of Cair in Skopje in a similar incident. Police did not reveal the nationality of the victims.
Visiting OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek, says recent upsurge in ethnic tension is a wake-up call for the country to do more to rebuild community trust.
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