Macedonia: Mass protests as EU envoy tries to break deadlock

AP News
Posted: Mar 21, 2017 1:46 PM

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Macedonia's capital of Skopje on Tuesday to protest a visit by a European Union envoy who is trying to break the political deadlock that has left the country without a government for three months.

Waving red-and-yellow national flags, the protesters chanted "Macedonia! Macedonia!" — gathering for a second consecutive day as EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn held talks with political leaders.

Protest organizers said they were holding rallies at 42 sites around the country, and unfurled giant banners along the route taken by Hahn from the airport to the capital.

Macedonia's two largest parties do not have enough lawmakers to form a government after a general election in December.

They would need to form a coalition a party from the country's ethnic Albanian minority, which are demanding that Albanian be made the country's second official language.

The long-governing conservatives rejected the minority demand outright. Conservative President Gjorge Ivanov, however, has refused to hand the rival Social Democrats a mandate to form a government until they do the same thing.

Ivanov, who did not meet with Hahn, argues that the language demand is an attempt to destroy Macedonia's character.

Ethnic Albanians make up a quarter of Macedonia's population. Albanian is currently recognized as an official language in minority-dominated areas but not in the country as a whole.

Macedonia has been locked in a major political crisis for the past two years, sparked by a wiretapping scandal and corruption allegations.