News 06 Jul 14

Macedonia Albanians Renew Protests After Unrest

Protesters returned to the streets in smaller numbers after violent unrest on Friday sparked by the terrorism convictions of alleged Albanian Islamists for the killing of five ethnic Macedonians.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Ethnic Albanians took to the streets of the capital Skopje and other towns on Sunday, but in smaller numbers than on Friday, when running battles saw dramatic clashes between riot police and demonstrators.

Violence flared again in the western town of Tetovo where Albanians make up the majority, as police used stun grenades to disperse about 1,000 protesters chanting slogans against the government and against the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, the biggest Albanian political party in Macedonia.

The police action prevented the protestersfrom reaching the headquarters of the DUI in Tetovo.

Smaller rallies also took place on Sunday without reports of violence in Skopje, where only around 100 young protesters gathered, and in the western towns of Struga, Gostivar and Kicevo, where Albanians make up a sizable part of the population.

  Journalists Demand Detained Reporter’s Release
  The Journalists’ Association of Macedonia, ZNM, has strongly condemned Friday's reported arrest of a young journalist Besim Ibrahimi during the violent unrest in Skoje.

Ibrahimi is a journalism intern for the Albanian-language newspaper Lajm during Friday's violent protest, and was detained on charges of being part of a mob. Lajminsists that he was reporting and not participating in the protest.

"This is shameful. Incarcerating journalists became a practice in Macedonia. Does this mean that the authorities are trying to discourage journalists from closely following the protests?" the head of ZNM, Naser Selmani, wrote on Facebook.

"Does this mean that all the journalists who reported from the protest were participating in a mob?" he asked.

Ibrahimi is being held in custody awaitinga judge's decision on whether he should stay in 30-day detention.

On Saturday, several hundred people gathered in Skopje's Albanian-dominated municipality of Cair, some of them throwing stones at the municipal building, but the demonstrators dispersed after police intervened.

The protesters were angry at the life sentences handed down to six alleged Muslim radicals for the killing of five ethnic Macedonians at Orthodox Easter in 2012, in a case that raised ethnic tensions in the country.

Friday’s protest, which started after the midday prayers in mosques in Cair, quickly turned violent as the several thousand people, mainly young men, charged towards the Skopje Criminal Court, throwing stones and bricks at the building and the police.

Six were detained and 20 police officers as well as some protesters were injured, the police reported.

Journalist Besim Ibrahimi

Alleged Islamic extremists Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta were convicted of terrorism over the 2012 killings last Monday. One other defendant was acquitted.

The initial announcement after the murders that the killers might be ethnic Albanians also sparked protests by groups of ethnic Macedonians, some of which turned violent.

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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