SKOPJE: Macedonia’s opposition Social Democrats said on Sunday that they would push ahead in forming a government with ethnic Albanian partners, following an eruption of violence when protesters who oppose them stormed parliament.
Nationalist demonstrators forced their way into the building on Thursday evening and the ensuing riots left scores injured, including Social Democrat (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev and other MPs.
The protesters oppose a proposed coalition between the SDSM and minority ethnic Albanian parties, which they allege is a threat to national unity.
Thursday’s violence – which met with international condemnation – was sparked by what the protesters said was an illegal vote for a new parliamentary speaker, ethnic Albanian Talat Xhaferi.
The SDSM and their allies accuse the rival conservative VMRO-DPMNE party of inciting the violence and using the ethnic card in a bid to cling to power, in the face of grave corruption allegations during the party’s decade-long rule.
An SDSM statement said the new speaker had been lawfully elected and a new government would be voted on by MPs “in the forthcoming period”.
The European Union and Washington have also supported Xhaferi’s election to the post, and US deputy assistant secretary of state Hoyt Brian Yee flew into Skopje on Sunday for talks to help end the deadlock.
The violence was the latest episode in a two-year political crisis in the unstable Balkan country of roughly two million people.
An early election in December was supposed to end the turmoil but has only deepened it, with nationalist protesters taking to the streets every night.
The VMRO-DPMNE party, led by former premier Nikola Gruevski, narrowly won the most seats in the December vote but failed to strike a deal with kingmaking Albanian groups.
Ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of Macedonia’s population.
Although Zaev then struck a deal to rule in coalition with Albanian parties, President Gjorge Ivanov – an ally of Gruevski – has denied them a mandate to rule.
He, and the protesters, allege sovereignty would be undermined by the Albanians’ demands, particularly that Albanian be made an official language nationwide. But his refusal to grant Zaev a mandate has met with EU and US disapproval.
The crisis erupted in 2015 when Zaev released tapes that appeared to show mass surveillance by the government under Gruevski, as well as top-level corruption.
Gruevski has denied the allegations but stepped down last year for the election. The situation in Skopje was calm on Sunday, with many residents out of town for the holiday weekend.