SKOPJE: Macedonian court on Tuesday handed suspended jail sentences of up to a year to nine people for bloody violence in parliament after an ethnic Albanian was elected speaker. The melee erupted on April 27 after about 100 nationalist demonstrators, including a group of masked men, barged their way into the assembly angry at a vote appointing Talat Xhaferi speaker. Scores of people were hurt. Around a quarter of Macedonia’s population of two million are ethnic Albanians, whom nationalists see as a threat to national unity.
The Skopje court handed down suspended sentences ranging from six months to one year. All the suspects pleaded guilty of entering parliament by force and fighting with police officers and security guards. “I’m a writer and I live for Macedonia,” Angele Zafirovski, told the court. “I … didn’t expect that the situation would turn out this way.” The violence followed two years of political crisis in the Balkan country and was condemned by the European Union and the United States.
Macedonia’s President Gjorje Ivanov last week tasked Zoran Zaev, leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM), with forming a government, five months after an election in the troubled nation. Zaev won the support of a parliamentary majority including ethnic Albanian parties. The president had earlier refused to grant the SDSM a mandate, saying national unity would be undermined by the demands of Albanian groups. SDSM vice-president Radmila Secerinska, who was brutally attacked in the parliament, recently said she wanted those behind the violence to get harsh sentences.