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Macedonian Crowd Rallies Against New Governing Coalition, Demands Elections

Protesters overran police and stormed Macedonia's parliament building on April 27
Protesters overran police and stormed Macedonia's parliament building on April 27

About 2,000 protesters gathered in Skopje on April 28 and demanded new elections one day after a band of protesters stormed Macedonia's parliament and beat up leaders of an emerging new governing coalition.

The latest protests, which were peaceful, were staged outside the mission of the European Union, which had expressed support for the new governing coalition formed by Macedonia's Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties.

The organizers of the latest rally insisted they have no political affiliation, and said their activism is aimed at preventing the country from sliding deeper into crisis. They marched under the banner "For a joint Macedonia."

Their sympathies with the conservative VMRO--DPMNE party were evident, however, as they protested against the installation of a new speaker of parliament, Talat Xhaferi, an ethnic Albanian selected by the new governing coalition.

The protesters also carried offensive messages against European diplomats. Macedonia is seeking to join the EU, but EU leaders have warned that the VMRO's refusal to cede power peacefully poses an obstacle to Skopje's admission to the bloc.

Earlier in the day, leaders of the new governing coalition refused to attend an emergency meeting called by President Gjorge Ivanov, a VMRO ally*, saying Ivanov had helped generate the crisis.

Both the EU and the United States on April 28 condemned the violence against Zoran Zaev, the leader of the Social Democrat party, as well as leaders of ethnic Albanian parties who were severely beaten by the mob that stormed the parliament building.

The beating left Zaev with blood pouring down his face, and photos and videos of the bloodied leader were widely distributed around the world.

“We consider violence always unacceptable, even more so when it happens in the house of democracy, in parliament,” EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

“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.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the United States "strongly condemns" the violence and is ready to work with the news speaker Xhaferi to "support democracy and to help Macedonia move forward on its European path."

"We urge all parties to remain calm, resolve any differences peacefully, and respect Macedonia’s laws and democratic processes," Toner said.

* CORRECTION: This story has been amended from an earlier version to note that President Ivanov is an ally of the VMRO-DPMNE​ rather than a member of that party.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Balkans Service

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