Macedonia Ministers, Intelligence Chief Resign after Violence


Macedonia's interior and transport ministers as well as the country's intelligence chief resigned Tuesday after deadly violence that pitted ethnic Albanian rebels against Macedonian police, a government spokesman said.

"Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska, Transport Minister Mile Janakieski as well as the director of DBK Saso Mijalkov presented their resignations," a government spokesman told Agence France Presse. "Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski accepted their resignations."

Spokesman Aleksandar Gjeorgiev did not elaborate on the reasons for their move, which comes after the Balkan nation was rocked by two days of clashes in a northern town at the weekend that left 22 people dead, including eight police officers.

The parliament was to convene on Wednesday to appoint the ministers' successors. 

Intelligence chief Mijalkov's resignation letter, published by state-run news agency MIA, said his move was "in the interest of Macedonia" and "would help the political crisis to be resolved." He claimed the crisis was "imposed by the opposition."

The incidents in Kumanovo were the worst in Macedonia for 14 years, and raised fears of fresh unrest similar to the country's 2001 ethnic conflict. 

NATO and the EU have called for a return to calm.

Mindful of the past insurgency and multiple wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, EU officials are particularly keen to prevent ethnically-driven violence from resurfacing.

The attack should not distract attention from Macedonia's "very serious internal political situation" or be used "to introduce ethnic tensions", EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said Monday.

Thirty alleged gunmen have been charged with terror offences after the bloody shootout that erupted on Saturday at dawn when police moved in on the armed group. 

Eighteen of the 30 men charged were ethnic Albanians from neighbouring Kosovo, a Macedonian prosecutor said earlier.

Ethnic Albanians make up around one quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population.

Prime Minister Gruevski claimed a "particularly dangerous terrorist group" of ethnic Albanians had been planning a major attack in the Balkan country.

The violence erupted amid political tension in Macedonia, where the government and centre-left opposition have been trading accusations including claims of wiretapping and million-euro bribes.

The three top officials who resigned Tuesday were being accused by the opposition of involvement in a wiretapping scandal. 

The 2001 Macedonian conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels ended with an agreement providing more rights to the minority community. However, relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians remain strained.

The crisis has undermined Macedonia's already weak institutions, and also sparked concerns within the 28-nation EU that Skopje hopes to join.

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