Macedonian police clash with ethnic Albanians over murder trial

by Reuters
Friday, 4 July 2014 14:18 GMT

* Ethnic Albanians angry over murder, terrorism verdicts

* Six Albanians jailed for life over 2012 lake murder

* Former Yugoslav republic still faces deep ethnic divisions (Adds details, background)

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE, July 4 (Reuters) - Police in Macedonia fired teargas and stun grenades on Friday in clashes with around 2,000 demonstrators protesting against the jailing of six ethnic Albanians for murder and terrorism.

A Reuters reporter at the scene said several people were injured and others arrested during clashes in the centre of the capital, Skopje.

The ethnic Albanian protesters, who pelted police with stones, were angry at the life sentences handed down for the murder of five Macedonian fishermen at a lake near Skopje in 2012.

Described by authorities as Islamists, the defendants were charged with terrorism and accused of trying to destabilise the state.

Macedonia continues to struggle with deep ethnic division 13 years after narrowly avoiding full-blown civil war during fighting between ethnic Albanian guerrillas and government security forces.

Ethnic Albanians, most of them Muslims, make up around a quarter of the former Yugoslav republic's population of 2 million, and say they are discriminated against. The guerrillas laid down arms in 2001 in return for greater rights and representation, and entered politics. Integration, however, has been slow to come about.

During a trial that lasted 18 months, prosecutors said the six accused had intended to use the murders to destabilise the country.

The fishermen were shot at close range by more than one gunman. Twenty people were arrested at the time in raids at more than 20 locations around the capital, involving 800 police officers.

Authorities described the suspects as followers of radical Islam. Defence lawyers said there was no evidence to support the charges.

Friday's protest appeared to have been organised via social media, with calls going out for Albanians to rally against "politically motivated court cases".

Protesters carried Albanian flags and banners that read "We are not terrorists" and "We want justice". (Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Matt Robinson and Mark Trevelyan)

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