By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Police in riot gear were still patrolling the central area of Skopje on Tuesday after days of simmering tension and protests held in connection with the mysterious murder of five men.
The Interior Ministry said it detained dozens of people following Monday’s clashes, including five minors. One police vehicle was damaged.
Trouble started on Monday afternoon when a mob mainly composed of several hundred youngsters and hooligans tried to move across the city’s Vardar River towards an area mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
They appeared to want revenge for the unexplained killings 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 say there is no evidence to support the claims.
Earlier, in front of the government building, Macedonian protesters chanted abusive slogans against Albanians. The police managed to cordon off the protesters, who were throwing bricks and stones at them.
Meanwhile, as the murder investigation continues, police said they had found a dark-red Opel Omega with faked license plates ditched along a road some 10km from the crime scene. They believe the vehicle was used in the crime.
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.
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.