Saturday, September 29, 2007

Parliamentary dispute turns physical in Macedonia

Prolonged political tensions erupted into a brawl at the Macedonian Parliament on Tuesday (September 25th). It happened at the end of a heated session concerning changes to the election code. Speaker Ljubisa Georgievski announced a break after a fierce verbal exchange between the leader of the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP), Abduladi Vejseli, and members of the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). Immediately afterwards, Vejseli was punched by DUI member Sadula Duraku.

The PDP, an ethnic Albanian party, is a member of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's ruling coalition. The DUI is the largest party representing ethnic Albanians in the country.

Menduh Taci, leader of a third ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians, then appeared during the break. Along with a few other members of his party, he allegedly attacked DUI member Teuta Arifi, who asked for medical assistance. By then, the halls of parliament were in chaos. A reporter from A1 Television was slapped in the face by DUI party security, and a crew from TV ALSAT was detained while filming police intervention outside the building.

The same evening, police detained nine people who were found in possession of two pistols outside parliament. Pistols, machine guns and bullets were also found in cars.

The following day, a TV ALSAT cameraman was beaten by police on the way to Tetovo. He had been filming the police as they stopped a vehicle containing two DUI members of parliament. The car with the MPs was allowed to go, but the police attacked the journalist and broke his camera. According to the City Hospital in Skopje, the man has two broken ribs and contusions on his back and chest.

The DUI has now convened an emergency meeting and decided to freeze its participation in the work of the parliament. The party also requested formation of a parliamentary commission to investigate the incidents. The opposition Social Democrats and Liberal Democrats have called for the resignations of the interior minister, deputy interior minister and parliament speaker.

Gruevski condemned the incidents and urged party leaders and MPs to resolve their disagreements peacefully and in a democratic manner. After meeting with the leaders of several parties, he said the first priority is to calm political tensions, after which an investigation should be launched.

Social Democratic leader Radmila Sekerinska, however, said the meeting with Gruevski had produced no results. She said her party had warned that the situation in parliament was escalating and that the parliamentary majority was provoking trouble. Instead of reining in those responsible, Gruevski simply complied with them, she said.

The events have drawn international condemnation. The EU warned that the situation reflects on the image of the country and shows the need for improved political dialogue. NATO said verbal and physical intimidation in institutions is unacceptable, especially at a time when agreement on reforms is within reach.

The OSCE and the Journalists' Association of Macedonia condemned the attacks on journalists. The ombudsman has begun an inquiry, and the interior ministry had pledged to conduct an internal investigation.

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