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Macedonian Politicians Turn Parliament Violence in War of Words

  • VOA News

Macedonian Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev, center, and members of his party attend a news conference in Skopje, Macedonia, April 28, 2017, a day after protesters attacked parliament.

Macedonia’s rival parties are trading blame for violence in parliament, while world powers are giving opposing reactions to the events.

The European Union and the United States condemned Thursday’s attack, in which protesters stormed the Macedonian parliament in Skopje, attacking opposition lawmakers after they elected an ethnic Albanian speaker.

Russia blamed the events on the West, saying it had meddled in the Balkan nation’s internal affairs.

Pointing fingers

In Macedonia, the previous night’s violence turned into a war of words between rival politicians on Friday.

Zoran Zaev, the head of the opposition Social Democrats, who were targeted in the attack, accused the attackers of attempted murder.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, whose supporters were among the mob that stormed the parliament, said he deplored the violence, but he accused the opposition of instigating it with an attempted power grab.

Interior Minister Agim Nuhiu announced his resignation Friday over the night’s events. He told reporters that 10 lawmakers and an unspecified number of journalists were among those hurt.

The interior ministry said 102 people were treated at city hospitals.

Speaker election

The violence began Thursday after lawmakers from the Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties elected former Defense Minister Talat Xhaferi speaker, even though the country has no functioning government.

Demonstrators stormed the parliament and began throwing chairs and attacking opposition lawmakers.

Demonstrators blocked the door of the chamber, refusing to let lawmakers leave as demonstrators waved flags in lawmakers’ faces and shouted “traitors.” Police outside the building fired stun grenades to break up the crowd.

People wave Macedonian flags during a peaceful protest in front of the EU mission building in Skopje, Macedonia, April 28, 2017. About 2,000 protesters gathered in Macedonia’s capital Skopje to demand new elections to try and break the country’s political deadlock, a day after violent protests inside the country’s parliament.
People wave Macedonian flags during a peaceful protest in front of the EU mission building in Skopje, Macedonia, April 28, 2017. About 2,000 protesters gathered in Macedonia’s capital Skopje to demand new elections to try and break the country’s political deadlock, a day after violent protests inside the country’s parliament.

Zaev’s Social Democrats and the ethnic Albanians would have enough seats to form a coalition government, but President Gjorge Ivanov has refused to give him a mandate.

The conservatives won December’s parliamentary election, but without enough seats to form a government. Coalition talks with other parties collapsed over ethnic Albanian demands to make Albanian an official language.

International reaction

The United States condemned Thursday’s violence “in the strongest terms.” In a statement posted on its State Department website, the U.S. Embassy in Skopje said the violence “is not consistent with democracy and is not an acceptable way to resolve differences.”

The U.S. called on all parties to “refrain from violent actions which exacerbate the situation.”

The European Union also condemned Thursday’s violence.

“I condemn the attacks on MPs in Skopje in the strongest terms. Violence has no place in parliament,” enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said. “Democracy must run its course.”

However, Russia blamed the events on the West, saying the Macedonian opposition had “foreign patrons.”

A Foreign Ministry statement said Xhaferi’s election was an “unceremonious manipulation of the will of citizens” and said EU and U.S. representatives were quick to recognize the speaker, indicating the vote was planned in advance.

The United Nations said in a statement by the U.N. secretary-general’s spokesman that it is “following developments unfolding in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia with great concern and call for restraint and calm. Violence directed at democratic institutions and elected representatives of the people is unacceptable.”

Macedonia has a Slavic majority, but about a third of the population is ethnic Albanian. The Balkan country aspires to join the European Union and NATO.

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