Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Albanians in Macedonia block roads, threaten violence

SKOPJE, Macedonia-Supporters of Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party blocked roads in western and northern parts of the country on Monday to protest being excluded from the new conservative-led coalition government.

The Democratic Union for Integration, or DUI, blocked main roads where ethnic Albanians comprise the majority of the population.

Prime Minister-designate Nikola Gruevski, whose conservatives won the July 5 general elections, chose to form a coalition partnership with the smaller ethnic Albanian DPA party.

The move outraged rival DUI, whose leadership decided last week to stage a week-long series of public protests.

"If the prime minister-designate has a little common sense and if he wants Macedonia to continue on its path toward European integration, he will include the party which won the majority of the votes among ethnic Albanians in his cabinet," Bekir Nexhiri, a senior DUI official, said.

Nexhiri led a group of about 200 DUI supporters who blocked roads in downtown Skopje, the capital, carrying placards reading "Protect our vote" and "Do not encroach on our vote."

Izet Mexhiti, mayor of nearby Cair, said the new government will have no legitimacy among Albanians if DUI is not included.

"This is DUI's first attempt to put pressure on Gruevski to incorporate DUI into the new government. We hope this move will be fruitful." Mexhiti said.

DUI lawmakers walked out of parliament last Tuesday before a new speaker was elected.

An ethnic Albanian uprising five years ago pushed the country to the brink of civil war, though since then minorities have won more rights. The ethnic Albanian minority makes up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population.

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