20,000 in Macedonian protest

Security was tight in the Macedonian capital as lawmakers met to discuss a plan to redraw municipal boundaries following bloody riots last week which left 30 people injured in the southwest town of Struga.

The draft law is designed to boost the representation of ethnic Albanians in key municipalities and is part of the EU-backed Ohrid peace accords, which ended seven months of ethnic violence in 2001.

But the ethnic Macedonian majority is mostly opposed to the bill, seeing it as a form of federalisation which eventually could lead to the creation of a “Greater Albania”, as sought by ethnic Albanian extremists.

Boris Kondarko, spokesman for the biggest party in the ruling alliance, dismissed concerns that the bill would lead to the breakup of Macedonia along ethnic lines.

“Our policy is for the decentralisation reforms to take place as soon as possible, as they are an important part of the (Ohrid) agreement,” he said. “The accusation from the opposition that someone is dividing or selling Macedonia is unacceptable.”

Despite the rain, thousands were at the “No to the division of Macedonia” march, called by opposition parties.

But the speakers insisted they did not oppose the 2001 EU-brokered peace accord.

“Macedonia wants to implement the peace accord, to join the European Union and NATO, but as a united, sovereign and independent state, not a divided one,” Stojan Andov of the Liberal party said.

Last Thursday Defence Minister Vlado Buckovski had to be evacuated from a meeting under police escort in Struga as demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails and stones in protest at the bill.

The proposed bill is one of the last elements of the Ohrid accords still to be implemented.

Macedonia formally applied to join the European Union in March.

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