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Macedonia: Grenade Blast Rocks Parliament Ahead of Vote

A small explosion early today rocked the Macedonian parliament building just hours before deputies were to vote on a new government. It's not clear who detonated the explosion, but RFE/RL reports that the awarding of four cabinet posts to former Albanian insurgents has angered Macedonian nationalists.

Prague, 31 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- An unknown assailant threw a hand grenade in front of the Macedonian parliament building today, causing material damage but no injuries.

The blast came just hours before deputies convened to vote on a new government. Interior Ministry spokesman Voislav Zafirovski said: "An unidentified person threw a hand grenade that fell in the middle of the road and exploded. The detonation of the explosion caused damage to about 10 vehicles [and] damage to the facade of the parliament building and other adjacent buildings. "

While it's not clear who threw the grenade, the blast is widely seen as linked to the handover of power from the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE to the Social Democrats (SDSM) and their new coalition partners, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).

BDI, with 16 out of 120 seats in parliament, will occupy four of 18 ministerial posts -- education, justice, health, and transportation -- as well as a post of deputy prime minister. BDI has agreed to the Social Democrats' demand that no former rebel commanders serve in the government.

Several groups are deeply angered by the Social Democrats' decision to form a coalition with the former insurgents.

A delegation of servicemen who were wounded in last year's fighting presented a letter to Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, expressing their outrage with the participation of what they call "Albanian terrorists" in the government and parliament.

The independent Makfaks news agency says a members of the "Lions" elite police unit, founded by outgoing nationalist Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, are planning protests at the parliament, together with family members of troops killed in last year's conflict.

Social Democrat spokesman Jani Makraduli said there can be little doubt about the origins of today's blast. "We must be conscious that this is the result of chaos and a power vacuum in Macedonia after the parliamentary election. The process of transferring power has taken too long, and certain structures still cannot come to terms and are destabilizing and threatening Macedonia's security," Makraduli said.

Similarly, BDI Deputy Chairman Agron Buxhaku said the attack was a failed attempt "by those whose days in power are numbered" to prevent parliament from voting in the new government. "Such bombings are done in a way to make us afraid of forming a government and a return to state of security," Buxhaku said.

VMRO-DPMNE spokesman Vladimir Gjorcev also denounced the attack. "We most strongly condemn the incident of throwing a bomb at the parliament of the Republic of Macedonia. What we must do now is find the perpetrators of this bad deed and the motives behind it. I think that Macedonian democracy has already shown that it can resist such incidents. That's why I think that the parliamentary session should continue normally and that we don't need any further interruption of this [parliamentary] process," Gjorcev said.

The bombing occurred hours before parliament met to debate and vote on the new cabinet of SDSM leader and Prime Minister-designate Branko Crvenkovski.

Crvenkovski told the lawmakers they should have no illusions about the continued existence of extremist views on both sides. "A key question for the unity of Macedonia is whether our Albanian fellow citizens want to be together with us in a united front in the struggle for the defense of common values and a common state or whether they want to be in solidarity with the other side, the radical structures that fought last year," Crvenkovski said.

Crvenkovski pledged an honest, modest, and responsible government, as well as full implementation of the August 2001 Ohrid framework peace agreement that ended the seven-month-long Albanian insurgency by granting Macedonia's Albanians and other minorities expanded rights.

He said the 15 September parliamentary elections were Macedonia's last chance and that his government will take full of advantage of that chance to turn the country around by putting it firmly on the road to economic development and job creation, while fighting crime and corruption. "What we Macedonians have to understand, whether we like it or not, is that Macedonia is not a state just for the Macedonian people, with everyone else staying on as a necessary evil, facing a fate that must be accepted for better or worse. We have to understand and accept that Macedonia belongs to all of us equally, and that no one has an exclusive right of ownership over Macedonia," Crvenkovski said.

Crvenkovski suggested that the international community should not apply its standards on minorities to Macedonia since Macedonia's Albanians are "23 percent" of the population and "cannot be subjected to the standards of other states where minorities account for 5, 7, or 9 percent."

A two-week-long statewide census begins tomorrow and should determine the actual size of the Albanian minority, which Albanians insist constitutes about one-third of Macedonia's 2 million inhabitants.

(RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)