Macedonia approves budget amid violence

AP News

12/24/2012 2:42:37 PM - AP News

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonia's parliament approved the 2013 budget late Monday, amid clashes outside the building between rival groups of protesters that left 11 police officers and at least three opposition lawmakers injured, police and party officials said.

Lawmakers voted 65-4 in favor of the €2.7 billion ($3.6 billion) draft budget in the Christmas Eve vote, as riot police were need to separate pro- and anti-government protesters, who hurled rocks and eggs at each other. Three protesters were detained for questioning, police said.

Other deputies were absent for the vote in the 123-seat parliament. Reporters were also ordered to leave the building before the vote. The budget must be adopted by year-end.

The Social Democrat-led opposition argued the conservative government was spending too much on grandiose monuments, as well as expensive cars and furniture for state officials. The opposition had demanded that spending be trimmed by more than €200 million ($264.5 million). In an emergency meeting Sunday, the government agreed to cut just €3 million ($4 million).

Social Democrat leader Branko Crvenkovski, a former president of Macedonia, announced his party would boycott parliamentary proceedings indefinitely.

He urged his supporters to join a campaign of "civil disobedience" aimed at toppling Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's conservatives.

Crvenkovski argued that the budget was wasteful at a time when many in the country are struggling to make ends meet.

But in a televised address late Monday, Gruevski accused his opponents of staging a "violent attempt to overthrow democratic institutions and the legitimately elected government."

He added: "The budget is just being used as a pretext for a battle by (Crvenkovski) for his own political survival."

The U.S. Embassy expressed "concern and disappointment" at the clashes in front of parliament and urged the country's two main parties to try to ease tension.

"The peaceful expression of different opinions is the foundation of a strong and democratic nation, and the use of violence by any parties involved undermines that system and damages its ability to govern responsibly," an embassy statement said.

"The United States urges the leaders of all political parties and their supporters to put an end to these confrontations without delay."