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Macedonian Crowds Continue Protests Against New Governing Coalition

VMRO-DPMNE supporters demonstrate in Skopje on May 2.
VMRO-DPMNE supporters demonstrate in Skopje on May 2.

Thousands of nationalist demonstrators are continuing their protests in Skopje against a proposed governing coalition of Social Democrats and ethnic Albanian parties, five days after they charged into parliament and assaulted lawmakers.

The protesters allege that a deal struck between the Social Democrats to govern alongside ethnic Albanian parties threatens national unity.

The accord would sideline the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party of former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, which opposes a plan to make Albanian the second official language of Albania.

A planned protest on May 3 comes a day came after VMRO-DPMNE legislators blocked an attempt by the coalition's recently elected speaker of parliament to take physical possession of the speaker's office.

VMRO-DPMNE lawmakers occupied the room and prevented Talat Xhaferi, who would be Macedonia's first ethnic Albanian speaker, from entering the office.

They contend that his election was not valid because it did not follow standard parliamentary procedures.

On April 27, the day Xhaferi was elected as parliamentary speaker, protesters stormed parliament and assaulted Social Democratic Union leader Zoran Zaev and several ethnic Albanian lawmakers, bloodying them and sending some to the hospital.

The riots injured about 100 people in all and were roundly condemned by both the European Union and the United States, both of which have taken steps to recognize Xhaferi as the legitimately elected speaker of parliament.

Washington and Brussels both insist that, under Macedonia's constitution, a coalition that controls a majority of seats in parliament has the right to form a new government.

The U.S. State Department sent a high-level envoy to Skopje during weekend to urge leaders of the VMRO-DPMNE to peacefully cede power to the coalition led by Zaev.

Although Zaev's Social Democrats and three ethnic Albanian parties control a majority of seats in parliament, President Gjorge Ivanov -- an ally of the VMRO-DPMNE -- has refused to take action on his constitutional authority to grant the alliance a formal mandate to form a new government.

That has prevented the Zaev's new coalition from formally presenting a new government for a vote of approval by parliament.

The VMRO-DPMNE and its allies say strong opposition to Zaev's proposed coalition, seen in nightly demonstrations by nationalists during the past two months, is evidence that the public does not want the VMRO-DPMNE to vacate power.

They argue that Macedonia needs to call new elections. They claim that the current impasse was caused by inconclusive results in December's election, rather than the refusal of Ivanov to present Zaev's majority coalition with the mandate it needs to conduct a parliamentary vote on a new government.

"We've been ignored for 60 days. We will continue to come," Bogdan Ilievski, one of the protest organizers, told the AFP news agency outside parliament during a protest on May 2.

"We have to continue our battle," he said. "We don't have another country."

The protest on May 2 was peaceful, though local media reported that an incendiary device had been found.

Ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of Macedonia's population of two million people.

With reporting by AFP and RFE/RL's Balkan Service
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