SKOPJE: Police in Macedonia fired tear gas and stun grenades 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 center 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 destabilize 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 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 destabilize 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. Defense lawyers said there was no evidence to support the charges.
Friday’s protest appeared to have been organized via social media, with calls going out for Albanians to rally against “politically motivated court cases”