Sunday, April 25, 2010

Macedonia's ethnic Albanians call protest rally

Ethnic Albanian groups said Thursday they will hold a major rally next month to protest what they called discrimination by the Macedonian majority, nine years after a power-sharing deal saved the country from civil war.

Protest organizer Ibrahim Kocha said he expects tens of thousands to protest outside the Supreme Court in Skopje on May 10.

He claimed that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's conservative government discriminates "on ethnic and religious grounds." Kocha told the AP that 40 ethnic Albanian organizations want Albanian to be recognized as the small Balkan country's second official language.

Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population. An armed uprising by ethnic Albanians in 2001 left about 80 people dead, and ended after international mediation secured more rights for the minority.

But ethnic Albanian leaders say government guarantees have been set aside.

Arben Xhaferi, an influential former leader and now honorary president of the Democratic Party of Albanians said he would revoke his signature from the peace deal in protest.

"(The deal) has become a mockery of agreed rights for Albanians, something over which they decided to take up arms in 2001," Xhaferi told The Associated Press in an interview.

"Both communities, Macedonian and Albanian, have failed to reconcile after 10 years and they are moving increasingly apart every day," he added.

The European Union, a main sponsor of the peace deal, insists on its full implementation.

The EU delegation in Macedonia said in a statement implementation of the deal "in letter and in spirit (is) the best means of supporting the stability and the multiethnic character of the country."

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