Demonstrators storm Macedonian parliament

Demonstrators storm Macedonian parliament
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 27, 2017

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev and other MPs from his party were among over 100 people injured when around 200 demonstrators forced their way into the Macedonian parliament on April 27. 

The violence started after the majority in the Macedonian parliament led by Zaev’s Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) elected Talat Xhaferi as speaker after a filibuster lasting nearly a month, as the conservative VMRO-DPMNE tried to stop the SDSM from forming a government. 

VMRO-DPMNE has ruled Macedonia since 2006, but despite narrowly winning the December 2016 election did not manage to put together a new government. Instead, the SDSM has formed a majority with the support of three parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority. Together, the SDSM and the three ethnic Albanian parties have 67 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Outside the parliament, the protests that are being held almost on a daily basis intensified when news of Xhaferi’s election broke, with the organisers of the protests, the civil association For United Macedonia, claimed it was a coup.

Despite a modest police presence, demonstrators entered the parliament, forcing MPs from the new majority to run away, fearing violence. Police, who were heavily outnumbered by protesters, eventually managed to evacuate the parliament, and used stun grenades to disperse the crowd outside. The latest police reports say that 109 people were injured. 

They include Zaev and at least two other MPs from the SDSM; footage from the parliament slows Zaev with blood pouring from a cut on his forehead. There are also reports that Ziadin Sela from the Alliance for Albanians party was seen covered in blood and reportedly is in serious condition. There is TV footage of one demonstrator ruthlessly pulling the hair of SDSM MP Radmila Sekerinska. Several policemen were also among the nine people injured. 

The situation is currently calm. However, there are now reports of VMRO-DPMNE supporters setting off by bus from other cities to head to the capital, indicating the situation could escalate further. 

Controversial appointment

Xhaferi was a candidate from the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), and the first ethnic Albanian parliament speaker since Macedonia gained independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991.

He was finally elected after Zaev called for an end to the political deadlock. His election took place in the middle of the assembly hall - in breach of normal procedures - as the speaker’s chair was occupied by MPs from VMRO-DPMNE.

“This is a coup,” shouted the VMRO-DPMNE members of the parliament, while the second oldest MP from the SDSM, Ferid Muhic, took over the presidency of the parliament in the absence of the oldest MP, in line with protocol. 

Muhic appointed Goran Misovski as his deputy. Misovski then called MPs to vote and later proclaimed Xhaferi as the new speaker.

Xhaferi was elected with 61 votes, with none against. MPs from the ethnic Albanian party Besa did not vote, while VMRO-DPMNE MPs stood around the speaker's chair and sang the national anthem. 

Xhaferi, a former Albanian rebel commander, was sworn in as speaker to replace Trajko Veljanovski from VMRO-DPMNE, and addressed MPs in the Albanian language.

Tensions have been inflamed in Macedonia after the SDSM struck a deal with the ethnic Albanian parties, agreeing to various concessions including wider official use of the Albanian language within Macedonia. Ivanov has so far refused to give Zaev the mandate to form a government. 

Leaders respond

Ivanov urged citizens to stay calm and not to succumb to provocations. He called on leaders of political parties to a meeting on April 28 in his cabinet to find ways to solve the crisis following the latest development according to the Constitution and the country’s national interest. Ivanov also said that all political parties should be responsible for their actions.

However, the SDSM said in a party statement that Gruevski, Veljanovski and Ivanov will be held responsible for the “bloody violence” in the parliament.

Meanwhile, VMRO DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski said in a party statement that violence is not a solution and called for restraint.

“People should not succumb to provocations of the SDSM and those who want to push the country deeper into the crisis to implement their scenario,” Gruevski said.

He said VMRO-DPMNE will oppose these “anti-state actions” through legal and democratic political means.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn condemned the attacks on MPs in the strongest terms.

"Violence has no place in the parliament," Hahn said on his Facebook page.

The US embassy also condemned the violence in the parliament in the strongest terms.

“It is not consistent with democracy and is not an acceptable way to resolve differences. It is critical all parties respect democratic processes and the law, and refrain from violent actions which exacerbate the situation,” the embassy said in a statement.

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