News 28 Sep 17

Verdicts in Macedonia Shootout Trial Due in October

As the ethnically-charged trial of 37 Albanians accused of involvement in a deadly shootout with police in Kumanovo came to an end, the Skopje court said the verdict will be delivered on October 17.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
The defendants in the courtroom. Photo: MIA.

The Skopje court on Wednesday said that the verdicts in the high-profile terrorism trial of 37 Albanians allegedly involved in the gun battle will be handed down on October 17.

The defendants are accused of participating in a two-day shootout with Macedonian security forces that left 18 people dead, including eight police officers, in the northern town of Kumanovo in May 2015.

If pronounced guilty, all the defendants face sentences ranging from 10 years to life in jail.

At the hearing on Wednesday, lawyers for the defendants, in their closing statements to the court, insisted that the evidence against their clients was insufficient and circumstantial and that they should be acquitted.

Some of the defendants, who admitted their participation in the armed group that clashed with the police in Kumanovo, maintained their previous claim that they were victims of a politically motivated set-up.

After the violence, many Albanians, as well as the then opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, said they suspected that the shootout was a set-up, staged to divert public attention from growing political turmoil after the opposition started to publish details of incriminating wiretapped conversations between high-ranking state officials from VMRO DPMNE party, which has since been ousted from office.

Since October last year, the defence has been saying that it wants a retired police general who is now head of the small opposition Dignity party, Stojance Angelov, and Ali Ahmeti, the head of the biggest ethnic Albanian party in Macedonia, the Democratic Union for Integration, DUI, to appear as witnesses in hope of shedding fresh light on the events.

But the court rejected these demands, citing a law which prohibits calling additional witnesses in the middle of the trial unless they are mentioned in other people’s testimonies as potentially relevant to the case.

The trial started in February 2016.

But at the beginning of June last year, proceedings had to restart after the prosecution decided to merge the case with another related case in which eight people are suspected of helping the armed group allegedly involved in the gun battle with police.

The prosecution alleges that the men stole weapons from a police station, which they used for the attack on the security forces in Kumanovo on May 9 and 10, 2015.

The defendants deny the charges and insist that the two-day shootout was a result of them defending themselves from the police.

It seems that the case and the controversy that surrounds it will not end with the court ruling.

Earlier this month, addressing public suspicions about the case, new Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the leader of the SDSM, whose government was elected in May, told media that he would like there to be a retrial, and if that happens, the authorities would ask for international help and supervision to remove all doubts about the case.

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