By Sinisa Jakov Marusic and Darko Duridanski
The discovery of the bodies of five murdered men, found on Thursday night near Zelezarsko Ezero in the northern outskirt of the capital, has sharply fuelled tensions in the country between Macedonians and Albanians.
Hundreds of Macedonians gathered to block a road in the northern part of Skopje to demand that the killers of five men be brought to justice.
Earlier, dozens of angry protesters tried to enter an area populated by ethnic Albanians, seeking revenge for the murdered men, although there is nothing to suggest that their killers were Albanian.
Police stopped the men from proceeding but did not prevent them from attacking a media crew from a local TV station and their vehicle.
The five bodies were found on the outskirts of Skopje on Thursday night. Media reports said four of the men appeared to be between 18 to 20 while one appeared to be in his forties.
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. Two cars were found in the vicinity with open doors.
Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska told reporters that the victims had been shot and that cartidges had been found at the crime scene. She expressed condolences to the families of the victims and said police were doing everything to resolve the murders.
30 people were brought in by police for questioning in relation to the murders.
“We have to practice restraint because the perpetrator or the perpetrators are still at large”, Jankuloвska said.
She said that police commanders have been mobilised and that there will be an increased police presence in order to prevent further escalation of violence. As for the protests at several locations in Skopje, she appealed for calm and restraint.
“We appeal for patience and restraint from any speculations that may lead to fueling inter-ethnic tensions. We hope that we can soon come out with more information and reveal more details and the perpetrators.”
Meanwhile, all political parties across the ethnic board offered condolences to the families of the victims called for swift investigation and appealed for calm and restraint.
President Gjorgje Ivanov said that, “in these moments of deep sorrow, we should not allow political misuse of this tragic event. I appeal for wisdom and responsibility”.
The EU mission to Skopje and the US embassy also condemned the incident and called for restraint.
The shocking incident, on the eve of Orthodox Good Friday and ahead of Orthodox Easter, seemed bound to cause more ethnic 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.