Macedonia hopes for calm after days of protests, riots

10/07/2014

A Skopje court sentenced six people for 2012 murders that officials say were committed to put ethnic Macedonians and Albanians in conflict.

By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 10/07/14

photo

Protesters riot in Skopje after a court sentenced six people on charges of terror-related murder. [AFP]

Authorities are attempting to maintain peace in Skopje in the aftermath of riots by thousands of people protesting the murder convictions of six people on terror-related murder charges, purportedly committed to deepen the wedge between ethnic groups in Macedonia.

"The state won't let these protests escalate to an extent where they can jeopardise the interests of the people and the [country's] institutions," Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters on Monday (July 7th). "We support peaceful protests like in any democratic country, but no one, nowhere, can support protests where violence is used."

Protests extended for days, at times turning violent, following last week's sentencing in the case of six Islamic extremists who were convicted in the deaths of five ethnic Macedonians at Orthodox Easter in 2012. Alil Demiri, Afrim Ismailovic, Agim Ismailovic, Fejzi Aziri, Haki Aziri and Sami Ljuta were given life sentences on June 30th. One person was acquitted.

Thousands of protesters on Friday (July 4th) gathered outside the criminal court building in Skopje, some throwing bricks and rocks, and riot police fired tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon into the crowd, according to media reports.

Rallies have also been reported in smaller towns, and many have been peaceful. Police in Tetovo on Sunday (July 6th) used stun grenades to disburse about 1,000 protesters, according to BIRN.

Authorities say the six men committed the murder in an effort to provoke ethnic conflict in between the Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanian minority.

"The verdict is justified. I expected [the accused to receive] life sentences," Goran Nakevski, father of one of the murder victims, told SETimes.

But the families of the convicted Albanians said they feel there is not enough evidence to prove guilt.

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"This only proved the judge is solely fulfilling the wishes of the authorities. This is a great injustice and it does not lead anywhere," Bedri Ajdari, brother of Fejzi Aziri, told SETimes.

Two of the convicted -- Demiri and Ismailovic -- are imprisoned in Kosovo and were tried in absentia. They fled to Kosovo once Macedonian police began the investigation and the Kosovo authorities arrested them on charges of illegal possession of firearms.

Once they are extradited, Demiri and Ismailovic will have the right to request retrial. The others who were convicted have said they will appeal the verdict.

How will the murder case and sentences affect relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians? Share your opinion in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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