Thousands of ethnic Albanians took to the streets of Skopje on Friday for a “protest for justice”, demanding freedom for the five ethnic Albanians who were sentenced to prison on Tuesday for the 2012 murders of five ethnic Macedonians.
The protest organised by the families and supporters of the convicted man started in Skopje’s Albanian-dominated municipality of Cair, with people shouting “Justice for Albanians” and calling politicians and the judiciary “crooks”.
They also carried banners calling for the resignation of prosecutors. One placard read: “Macedonia has corrupt courts and prosecutors.”
Violence broke out after a brief stand-off with armed riot police escalated who had cordoned off the boulevard leading towards the court buildings complex in central Skopje, which was the protestors’ intended destination.
After a series of scuffles, with protestors trying to breach the police line and throwing stones and other heavy objects at the officers, the protest that was organised by the families and supporters of the convicted people, the clashes escalated.
A team of reporters from North Macedonia’s state news agency MIA was attacked just seconds before the police went on the offensive to push the protestors away from central Skopje and back towards the Cair municipality.
As the throwing of rocks continued, the police used shock grenades and armoured vehicles to disperse the crowd, which retreated to the city’s landmark Bit Pazar, an open-air market.
The violence did not last long, and as police ceased to pursue protesters further into the market, the situation calmed and the crowds dispersed.
The demonstration in Skopje follows Tuesday’s verdict in an ethnically-charged, politically contentious retrial of six ethnic Albanians for the 2012 murders of five Macedonian men.
Three defendants were sent to life in prison, two were given long jail sentences while one was acquitted at the retrial.
However the retrial failed to shed new light on the case and quell speculation about whether the suspects were set up by the authorities and made scapegoats for political reasons by the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, which was in power at the time.