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North Macedonia Arrests Ex-Speaker, Two Others For 2017 Parliament Invasion


Zoran Zaev (center) was injured in the 2017 invasion of the parliament in Skopje.

SKOPJE -- Police in North Macedonia have arrested the former parliament speaker and two ex-ministers in the previous government, alleging they played roles in a violent invasion of the legislature in 2017.

Prosecutors on February 20 said the alleged acts constituted a "terrorist conspiracy to undermine constitutional order and security."

Arrested were former speaker Trajko Veljanovski, former Education Minister Spiro Ristovski, and ex-Transport Mile Janakieski, who are suspected of helping organize the invasion of the main parliament chamber by supporters of the former nationalist government on April 27, 2017.

A court in Skopje ordered the two former ministers held in pretrial custody for 30 days after questioning them until after midnight on February 21. Their lawyers said they will appeal the decision.

Veljanovski, who is a current lawmaker, cited his parliamentary immunity and was released.

He denied the accusations in brief comments to reporters after his release.

The invasion of the parliament, which included masked men, resulted in dozens of journalists and lawmakers being injured, including then-opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, who is now prime minister.

Nationalists expressed anger over demands made by ethnic Albanian parties that were negotiating to form a government with the Social Democrats, including making Albanian a second state language.

A statement by prosecutors alleged that Veljanovski, Ristovski, and Janakieski prepared and implemented a plan at the beginning of 2017 with the intention of preventing the peaceful transfer of power.

"For that purpose, they organized and financially supported the mass protests, first before the State Election Commission, and then the protests of the 'For Macedonia' movement that culminated in the violent entry" into the parliament building, the statement said.

At least 33 people were originally charged in the matter, but after a government amnesty, the number subject to trial was reduced to 15 people.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski is reportedly under investigation in the case. He was sentenced to prison for corruption but has fled the country and has been granted political asylum in Hungary.

Gruevski’s nationalist VMRO-DPMNE party had been in power from 2006 until June 2017. Gruevski served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016.

With reporting by dpa, AP, and IBNA