Macedonian crisis erupts in violence

Nationalists protesting against a vote that led to Mr Talat Xhaferi's election as Macedonia's Speaker of Parliament. The country has been in a political gridlock since 2015.
Nationalists protesting against a vote that led to Mr Talat Xhaferi's election as Macedonia's Speaker of Parliament. The country has been in a political gridlock since 2015.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Protesters storm Parliament, attack MPs after election of Speaker; opposition leader injured

SKOPJE (Macedonia) • A long-simmering political crisis in Macedonia erupted when a mob of angry nationalists attacked lawmakers inside Parliament, leaving some of them bloodied, with the United States and European Union condemning the violence.

Scores of demonstrators forced their way into the legislature after the opposition Social Democrats and parties representing ethnic Albanians elected a Parliament Speaker in a vote that former prime minister Nikola Gruevski's party refused to recognise.

Demonstrators threw chairs and shouted "traitors" at the lawmakers during the clash on Thursday, with a video showing Social Democrats member Radmila Sekerinska being grabbed by her hair and tossed backwards. The leader of the Social Democrats, Mr Zoran Zaev, was injured along with Mr Ziadin Sela of the Alliance of Albanians.

The protesters controlled the Parliament until a much larger group of police reinforcements arrived and managed to push them outside. The police then used stun grenades to disperse the crowd around the building to evacuate lawmakers.

The EU and the US condemned the violence and welcomed the parties' election of Mr Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of Parliament.

"We will work with him to support democracy and to advance the interests of Macedonia," the US embassy in Skopje said on its website.

Ms Federica Mogherini, the EU's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, and Mr Johannes Hahn, the bloc's commissioner for enlargement, said in a statement: "We condemn in the strongest terms (the) ongoing attacks on the members of the Parliament in Skopje. Democracy must run its course. We take positive note of the election of Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of the Parliament."

The United Nations called for restraint and calm in Macedonia, saying that violence is "unacceptable".

Macedonia has been in a two-year political deadlock since a wiretapping scandal revealed corruption, election rigging and other criminal activities at the highest levels of government in 2015. An election in December last year resulted in a virtual tie between the Social Democrats and the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation-Democratic Party.

Mr Zaev of the Social Democrats has cobbled together a majority through a coalition with the Democratic Union for Integration, an ethnic Albanian party. But for months, President Gjorge Ivanov, has refused to give him the mandate to form a government, citing "legal and political" reasons.

Part of Mr Xhaferi's role as Speaker would include formally petitioning the President to ask Mr Zaev to form a government.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2017, with the headline 'Macedonian crisis erupts in violence'. Print Edition | Subscribe