Riot police clashed with ethnic Macedonians as they attempted to move into an Albanian districts of the capital on Monday, seeking revenge for recent slaying.
By Darko Duridanski
Macedonian police intervened on Monday to stop a mob mainly composed of youngsters and hooligans from moving across the Vardar river towards an area mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
The protest came four days after the murder of five men on the outskirts of Skopje, which has sharply fuelled inter-ethnic tensions following the spread of rumours that the men were killed by Albanians. Police have repeatedly said there is no evidence to support such claims.
In front of the government building the protesters chanted abusive slogans against Albanians. The police managed to cordon off the protesters, who were throwing bricks and stones at them. The crowd then moved in front of the parliament building where they met a heavy presence of police in riot gear.
Reporters at the scene were threatened and told to stay away and not take photographs.
The bodies of Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Cvetanco Acevski and Kire Trickovski, all aged between 18 and 20, were discovered on Thursday night near Zelezarsko Ezero on the northern outskirts of the capital and a popular fishing destination. All had gunshot wounds.
Eyewitnesses said they were found by a local fisherman and the victims were believed to be fishermen too. The bodies had been lined up and appeared to have been executed with firearms.
The body of 45-year-old Borce Stevkovski was a short distance away from the rest. His brother said that Stevkovski may have been killed because he had accidentally witnesed the murders of the others.
Interior Ministers Gordana Jankulovska told reporters on Saturday that “the autopsy and the analysis of the bullet casings found at the scene show that three types of weapons were used which suggests there were more than one perpetrators”. The autopsy showed the victims were shot at close range. She said the murder was done by professionals.
The news of the killings have fuelled tensions in the country between Macedonians and Albanians.
Overnight on Sunday one Albanian house was burned down while on Friday police had to deploy riot police to the area as hundreds of angry Macedonians gathered near the place where the bodies were found, blocking a road and demanding that the killers be brought to justice.
Dozens of them tried to enter an area populated by ethnic Albanians, seeking revenge for the murdered men, although there was nothing to suggest that the killers were Albanian.
The minister said there is no evidence “to suggest the ethnic background or the identity of the killers, nor the motives for the killing. Therefore I appeal to all to restrain from any speculations that could fuel interethnic tensions,” she said.
The shocking incident, ahead of Orthodox Easter, seemed bound to cause more turbulence in the country between Macedonians and the country’s large ethnic Albanian minority.
Tension between the two communities has been rising since February when an off-duty Macedonian policeman shot dead two young Albanians in the northwestern town of Gostivar.
After that, the Balkan country experienced the worst outbreak of inter-ethnic gang violence since 2001, when it narrowly avoided civil war.
During first half of March gangs of mainly young people attacked people in commuter buses and on the streets in capital and in other towns, leaving at least 15 injured. After police apprehended more than 30 suspects the incidents began to subside.