November 28, 2017 / 11:58 AM / 2 years ago

Macedonian police detain ex-minister over April riots

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian authorities detained a former interior minister and a number of lawmakers and political activists on Tuesday on charges related to violence in parliament in April which pushed the Balkan country into a political crisis.

Along with Mitko Cavkov, a former interior minister and police chief, authorities detained at least three parliamentary deputies of the rightist VMRO-DPMNE party, several party officials, actors and leaders of a Macedonian nationalist movement that spearheaded the April protests.

In a statement, the office of the Prosecutor for Organized Crime and Corruption said it had ordered a formal investigation against 36 people including Cavkov.

“After considering and analyzing the evidence, the prosecutor has issued an order for a formal investigation ... on suspicion they committed ... terrorist threatening of the constitutional order and security,” it said.

The statement did not provide details on how many suspects remained at large.

On April 27, protesters stormed parliament and assaulted Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democrats after his party and its ethnic Albanian allies elected an Albanian parliament speaker. Dozens were injured in subsequent clashes with police.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE, which ruled the country since 2006 until elections in 2016, reacted to the detentions by calling for a protest in downtown Skopje for later on Tuesday.

Macedonia was without a functioning government between 2015 and April 2016 due to political turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the VMRO-DPMNE party bloc.

The April riots marked the worst crisis in Macedonia since 2001 when Western diplomacy helped drag the country from the brink of civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency, promising it a route to membership of the European Union and NATO.

The parliamentary crisis ended in May when Zaev formed a coalition government with ethnic Albanian parties which represent a third of the country’s two million population.

Macedonia, which won independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, has made little progress towards EU and NATO membership due to a name dispute with Greece.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by William Maclean

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