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Sunday 19 November 2017

Politicians attacked as protesters storm Macedonian parliament

Protesters shout after storming the Macedonian parliament in Skopje (Boris Grdanoski/AP)
Protesters shout after storming the Macedonian parliament in Skopje (Boris Grdanoski/AP)

Scores of protesters have broken through a police cordon and stormed Macedonia's parliament, attacking politicians amid anger over the election of an ethnic Albanian as speaker.

The protesters entered the parliament after the opposition Social Democrats and parties representing Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority voted for the new speaker.

Shouting and throwing chairs, the protesters attacked politicians including opposition leader Zoran Zaev, who television footage showed bleeding from the forehead.

Footage showed Mr Zaev and other Social Democrats surrounded by protesters waving national flags, shouting "traitors" and refusing to allow them to leave.

Macedonia has been without a government since December, when former prime minister Nikola Gruevski's conservative party won an election but did not secure enough votes to form a government.

Coalition talks broke down over ethnic Albanian demands that Albanian be recognised as an official second language. One-fourth of Macedonia's population is ethnic Albanian.

Mr Zaev has been seeking a mandate to form a government for months, after reaching an agreement with an ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, to form a coalition.

However, President Gjorge Ivanov refused to hand him the mandate.

The Assembly of the Republic of Macedonia, as the Balkan nation's parliament is known, has been deadlocked for three weeks over electing a new speaker.

Mr Zaev had suggested earlier on Thursday that one could be elected outside normal procedures, an idea immediately rejected by the conservative party as an attempted coup.

Mr Zaev went ahead with the vote, and a majority in parliament elected Talat Xhaferi, a former defence minister and member of the Democratic Union for Integration.

Police said about 10 officers were injured during the melee and that reinforcements were sent to assist those inside the parliament building.

The protesters were among a group of demonstrators who have been holding rallies nightly for the past two months in the streets of Skopje and other cities in the country over the political situation. Many are supporters of Mr Gruevski.

A senior European Union official condemned the violent protest.

Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in a tweet that ''Violence has NO place in Parliament. Democracy must run its course''.

Sweden's ambassador to Macedonia Mats Staffansson, speaking on behalf of other European diplomats, reminded the country's politicians of the need for dialogue and said ''it is the responsibility of the police of this country to make sure that this kind of violence does not happen''.

AP

Press Association

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