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West Condemns Macedonian Violence As Balkan Tensions Rise


Protesters Storm Macedonian Parliament
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WATCH: Protesters Storm Macedonia Parliament

The European Union, the United States, NATO, and several Balkan countries have condemned the violent storming of Macedonia's parliament by nationalist demonstrators who assaulted several lawmakers and journalists.

Zoran Zaev, the head of an alliance of Macedonian lawmakers, left the legislature in the midst of the April 27 violence with blood pouring down his face. He refused on April 28 to meet with President Gjorge Ivanov, who called for emergency talks aimed at defusing tensions amid a two-year political stalemate in the country.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the violence, which has deepened a two-year political stalemate in the EU candidate state, "particularly worrying and very sad."

"We consider violence always unacceptable, even more so when it happens in the house of democracy, in parliament," Mogherini told reporters in Malta on April 28 ahead of an EU meeting.

"We believe that all in Skopje should follow the constitutional principles, democracy and try to bring the country out of this serious crisis that can be dangerous," she said.

WATCH: EU Foreign-Policy Chief Condemns Macedonia Violence

EU Foreign Policy Chief Condemns Macedonia Violence
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Demonstrators, some wearing black masks, rampaged through parliament on April 27 after an alliance of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties approved Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian, as speaker of parliament.

Zoran Zaev, the head of a newly formed coalition that said it was trying to assert its right to govern by electing the new parliament speaker, left the building with blood streaming from his head.

Three lawmakers from ethnic Albanian parties were also injured, including Ziadin Sela, leader of the Albanian Alliance, who was taken to the emergency room of a Skopje clinic.

Correspondents from RFE/RL also came under attack inside the parliament building, along with other journalists there.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent condemned the violence and called for a thorough investigation "to ensure that violence against journalists is not perpetrated with impunity, and that all members of the press are able to do their jobs in safety."

In all, 102 people were injured, including 25 police officers, as clashes between police and protesters spilled onto the streets outside the building, authorities said.

Agim Nuhin, the caretaker government’s interior minister, offered to step down amid claims the police failed to do enough to stop the incident. His resignation would have to be approved by the head of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration party.

The U.S. Embassy in Skopje also condemned the violence "in the strongest terms," saying in a message on its Twitter account that it was "not consistent with democracy and is not an acceptable way to resolve differences."

The Russian Foreign Ministry suggested that the United States and the European Union were to blame, asserting in a statement that the main cause of the political crisis in Macedonia was "blatant interference" in its internal affairs. It gave no concrete evidence to support the claim.

Long-simmering tensions have come to a boil in the nation of 2.1 million, with an ethnic Macedonian majority and a large ethnic Albanian minority, amid protests over the inclusion of ethnic Albanian partners in a proposed governing coalition led by the Social Democrats.

After December elections failed to show a clear-cut victor, Zaev agreed to form a coalition with some ethnic Albanian parties in exchange for accepting their demands for greater rights and the establishment of Albanian as a second official language in certain areas of the country.

But Ivanov has refused to give Zaev the official mandate to move ahead with the plan, arguing that the language issue was an attempt to destroy Macedonia's independence. He has also accused Albania of interference in its domestic affairs.

Often troubled relations between Slavic groups and ethnic Albanians, who number about 8 million across the Balkans, are a cause of tension in the region.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called on April 28 for emergency security consultations over the political turmoil and unrest in Skopje.

Turkey expressed "deep concern" about the violence and urged the creation of a new government within democratic principles.

"Macedonia holds key significance to establish lasting peace in the Balkans," a statement from the Turkish president’s office said.

Macedonia fell into its current political crisis two years ago amid claims that the governing conservative party, VMRO-DPMNE, led by former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, was responsible for the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people including journalists, politicians, and religious leaders.

Gruevski told reporters at his party headquarters on April 28 that he condemned the violence, but that the Social Democrats bear some responsibility, asserting that what he called their "greed for power at any cost" was its "direct cause."

Zaev on April 28 accused the VMRO-DPMNE of not wanting to give up power.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, AP, and Reuters
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