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Macedonia Albanian Protests Pass Off Peacefully

Ethnic Albanians took to the streets again on Friday in protest against the recent conviction of six alleged terrorists.

This article is also available in: Shqip Македонски Bos/Hrv/Srp

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Macedonian police were maintaining a heavy presence on Friday in the capital, Skopje, where rival demonstrations had been announced in the city.

Ethnic Macedonians had been due to gather in front of the government building while ethnic Albanians were to rally in the city’s mainly Albanian municipality of Cair.

Albanians protested against the recent conviction for terrorism of six Albanians found guilty of the murder of five Macedonians in 2012.

By early afternoon several thousand mainly young ethnic Albanians had gathered in the city’s mainly Albanian municipality of Cair, near the court building, chanting “UCK”, referring to the Albanian guerrilla force that took on the Macedonian armed forces and police in 2001, and carrying a banner with photograph of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski reading “This is the face of evil”.

There was a heavy police presence at the scene, with armoured vehicles and officers in riot gear. While the situation was tense, the protests ended without incidents.

The protesters had several demands, starting with the release of six Albanians convicted of killing five Macedonians in 2012, release of those detained for last week’s protests, the resignation of the interior minister Gordana Jankuloska and an investigation into the work of the prosecutor in the murder case.

Although various groups had called for a rival protest of ethnic Macedonians in front of the government, only numerous media crews turned up at the scene.

In his first public address on the issue since the turmoil about the verdict started two weeks ago, President Gjorge Ivanov called for protests to remain peaceful.

“Protests are allowed but not violence. The instructions in charge are doing everything to prevent violence… All issues can be solved through the institutions,” Ivanov said.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for EU’s High Representative on Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, said: “Everyone has the right to protest, but in a peaceful manner.”

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Thursday told the Albanian language program of the national broadcaster, Macedonian Radio and Television, MRTV, that the violence seen at last Friday’s protests in Skopje was the work of “religious radicals” that had nothing to do with the interests of Albanians.

“When it comes to violent behaviour, our information is that behind it are people who have other agendas, people fed with religious radicalism, and we should be watchful about that,” Gruevski said.

Last Friday, running battles erupted in Skopje as several thousand ethnic Albanian protesters, angered by the verdicts in the trial, tried to storm the Skopje criminal Court only to be forced back by police.

Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta were convicted of terrorism for the 2012 killings on June 30 and sentenced to life in prison. Two of the six are out of reach of the Macedonian courts in Kosovo.

There was no protest of Macedonians in front of the government building | Photo by: Zoran Ricliev

The head of Macedonia’s Islamic Religious Community, IVZ, Sulejman Rexhepi, condemned last Friday’s unrest, adding that it was “risky” to participate in protests that appeared to lack formal organization.

He described people who at last week’s protests waved the flags of Saudi Arabia and Islamic religious texts in front of Macedonian police as “manipulators”.

“Those who did this no doubt joined [the protest] to devalue the protest and its national or religious character,” Rexhepi said.

Meanwhile, an individual calling himself “Commander Panther” has taken to the internet to order the leading Albanian-Macedonian politician, Ali Ahmeti, to leave the government.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

He said he was ready to start another armed conflict in Macedonia, similar to the one in 2001, when Albanian insurgents – led by Ahmeti – battled Macedonian security forces.

On Monday, Victoria Nuland, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, will arrive in Skopje for talks about the country’s European and Atlantic aspirations. The ethnic turmoil is expected to be high on her agenda.

This article is also available in: Shqip Македонски Bos/Hrv/Srp

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