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Macedonia Convicts 33 Over Deadly 2015 Shoot-Out, Hands Lengthy Jail Terms


Macedonia Convicts 33 Men On Terrorism Charges
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A Macedonian court has convicted 33 men of plotting attacks and clashing with police in a 2015 shoot-out that left 22 people dead, and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms.

Amid tight security, the Criminal Court in Skopje on November 2 sentenced seven of the men to life in prison, while the remaining were handed down prison terms ranging from 12 to 40 years each.

Four defendants in the case were acquitted.

Delivering the verdict, presiding Judge Verka Petkovska told the courtroom that the prosecutor provided evidence that the convicted men committed or organized acts of terrorism.

Defense lawyer Naser Raufi said that he did not expect such heavy sentences, alleging that the trial was staged by the "secret services" and calling for an independent investigation.

All the defendants, who were ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia, denied the charges when the trial opened in February 2016.

They protested while the verdict was being read, prompting the judge to order them to leave the courtroom before hearing the sentences.

The court was under heavy police protection, with helicopters of flying over the building. Dozens of members of a special operations unit were also deployed.

Eight members of the security forces and 14 gunmen were killed in a two-day shoot-out in May 2015 in the ethnically mixed northern town of Kumanovo near the border with Kosovo. Forty police officers were also injured.

The clash occurred during a police raid that followed an attack by armed men on a border post.

It was the worst unrest in Macedonia since an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001 ended with a deal providing greater rights for the minority group.

Ethnic Albanians make up about one-quarter of the country's population of about 2.1 million.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters