Ethnic Albanians clash with police in Macedonia

SKOPJE Sat Mar 2, 2013 1:14pm EST

1 of 4. Macedonian riot police clash with ethnic Albanians during a demonstration in Skopje, March 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski

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SKOPJE (Reuters) - Riot police in Macedonia clashed on Saturday with ethnic Albanian protesters who torched a bus and attacked shops in a second day of violence triggered by the appointment of a former guerrilla fighter as defense minister.

Ethnic tensions continue to simmer in the impoverished former Yugoslav republic more than a decade since it was brought to the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian guerrilla insurgency.

Saturday's violence, in which at least 20 people were injured and a dozen arrested, appeared to be a response to angry demonstrations by Macedonians late on Friday against the appointment last month of former guerrilla commander Talat Xhaferi as defense minister.

Several hundred ethnic Albanians in the capital, Skopje, torched a bus and several cars, and attacked shops. Police in riot gear fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse them, a Reuters photographer said.

"The situation is under control. A dozen people have been arrested, while the others fled," said a police spokesman. "Police are on the ground and working on finding the others who took part. The material damage is great."

Xhaferi was part of a guerrilla army that fought for greater rights and representation for Macedonia's 25 percent ethnic Albanian minority.

The West brokered a deal whereby the guerrillas disarmed and entered politics, and one faction is now in coalition government with rightist Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

But relations remain tense, exacerbated by the slow pace of progress in Macedonia towards European Union membership and the freedom of movement and economic opportunity the country's 2 million people hope this will bring.

Macedonia's bid to join the EU and NATO is being held hostage to a long-running dispute with neighboring Greece over the country's name, which it shares with a northern Greek province. Greece wants it changed.

Mindful of the threat of instability, the EU has signaled it might agree to open accession talks with Macedonia this year even without a solution to the name dispute.

(Reporting by Ognen Teofilovski; Writing by Kole Casule; Editing by Matt Robinson and Sophie Hares)

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Comments (2)
nigwisht wrote:
It’s called FYROM. Macedonia is the northernmost province in Greece. Reuters, get your facts right.

Mar 03, 2013 9:11am EST  --  Report as abuse
It’s mind boggling that a reputable news agency such as Reuters should get it so spectacularly wrong! Those riots had nothing to do with the appointment of the new defence minister. On the contrary, they were directed against the government and the Albanian coalition partner, the party that the minister belongs to, for failing to protect Albanians in the capital. In the week before the riots there had been several vicious attacks on young Albanian high school students across the capital by groups of ethnic Macedonian hooligans. In one such attack, a 13 year old Albanian boy was beaten severely, forced to kiss a crucifix and then had his face slashed wih a knife. In another, the hooligans attacked a 16 year old girl, stabbed her in the head and attempted to rape her. None of these attack were reported by the Macedonian speaking media, who instead reported that the riots were in support of Minister Xhaferi. Albanians in Macedonia are so disillusioned with their political representatives in Macedonia (both in government and opposition) that it is unthinkable that so many young people should riot in support of one of them. Not one of these protesters cares one jot about Minister Xhaferi. They were there to request that the government does something to protect them. Macedonian language media have behaved apallingly bad in the last couple of weeks and their unprofessional reporting has further stoked ethnic tensions in an already tense environment. We have come to expect that in Macedonia what with the ethnic biased journalism on all sides, but we expectbetter from Reuters.

Mar 09, 2013 11:08am EST  --  Report as abuse
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