In Macedonia Rivals trade blame over parliament violence

The chaos in Skopje broke out on Thursday evening, with dozens of nationalist demonstrators storming parliament in anger.

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Opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev is injured in violent clashes in Macedonia's parliament on April 27, 2017 play

Opposition Social Democrats leader Zoran Zaev is injured in violent clashes in Macedonia's parliament on April 27, 2017

(AFP)
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Macedonia's rival political parties traded blame Friday for an eruption of violence in the unstable Balkan country's parliament which left scores of people injured.

The chaos in Skopje broke out on Thursday evening, with dozens of nationalist demonstrators -- including a group of masked men -- breaking a police cordon and storming parliament in anger over a vote for a new speaker, an ethnic Albanian.

Footage from the scene showed chairs being thrown as fistfights broke out in the parliamentary press room, while Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM), had blood running down his face and shirt.

The violence, which was condemned by the European Union and the United States, follows two years of political crisis in the country of about two million people.

An early election in December was supposed to end the turmoil, but its inconclusive result only deepened the uncertainty and has led to nightly protests by nationalist demonstrators, who support the conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of former premier Nikola Gruevski.

They oppose a proposed coalition between the SDSM and ethnic Albanian parties, which they perceive as a threat to national unity.

The storming of parliament was sparked by a vote by the SDSM and Albanian groups for a new parliamentary speaker, Talat Xhaferi.

While the EU said it took "positive note" of Xhaferi's election, the protesters considered the vote unlawful, taking place after the former speaker had closed the day's session.

'Policy of hatred and division'

Condemning the violence on Friday, Gruevski said the SDSM and their allies had "knowingly decided to violate the law and the constitution, which directly caused the event that ensued".

The Macedonian interior ministry says the situation has been "normalised" after violence erupted in parliament play

The Macedonian interior ministry says the situation has been "normalised" after violence erupted in parliament

(AFP)

The SDSM said the speaker's election was "a major step" in the democratic process and blamed the violence on "a policy of conflict, hatred and division" brought on by the rule of Gruevski, who served as premier for a decade until last year.

President Gjorge Ivanov, an ally of Gruevski, was set to hold an emergency meeting of party leaders on Friday but the SDSM said it would not attend.

Ethnic Albanian party BESA said the interior ministry had "allowed VMRO-DPMNE hooligans to attack the highest legislative institution".

'Situation normal'

The ministry said the situation was "normalised" on Friday morning but that there were "additional measures and activities to protect the security of citizens".

It said 102 people had been treated at city hospitals, including MPs and police officers. Most suffered minor injuries.

Demonstrators stormed Macedonia's parliament to protest against against what they said was an unfair vote to elect a parliamentary speaker, following months of political deadlock play

Demonstrators stormed Macedonia's parliament to protest against against what they said was an unfair vote to elect a parliamentary speaker, following months of political deadlock

(AFP)

Interior Minister Agim Nuhiu -- who announced his resignation on Friday over the night's events -- had told media that 10 MPs and an unspecified number of journalists were among those hurt.

Most of the injured deputies were from the SDSM party, but ethnic Albanian MP Ziadin Sela appeared to be one of the most badly wounded.

Video from parliament showed one female SDSM deputy being fiercely yanked by the hair while other women climbed down from a balcony in a bid to escape.

Police eventually took control of the parliament, using stun grenades to clear out the protesters.

The political crisis in Macedonia, which aspires to join both the EU and NATO, erupted in 2015 over a huge wiretapping scandal.

A focal point of the current tension is a controversial demand of Albanian parties that Albanian be made an official language across Macedonia.

Critics of the demand fear it could lead to the break-up of the small landlocked country, in which about a quarter of the population is ethnic Albanian.

President Ivanov has denied Zaev a mandate to form a coalition government with Albanian parties, alleging national sovereignty would be undermined.

But the opposition accuses its conservative rivals of playing with fire by using the ethnic card in a bid to stay in power.

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