April 28 (UPI) — About 200 Macedonian nationals stormed the parliament in Skopje and beat several lawmakers Thursday after an ethic Albanian was elected speaker, police said.
The protesters, some wearing black masks, demanded new elections and backed ex-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski‘s VMRO party.
Social Democratic Union leader Zoran Zaev had blood on his face and head, and three lawmakers from ethnic Albanian parties also were injured, according to eyewitness accounts from Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.
In all, 77 people were injured, including 22 police officers, inside and outside the parliament, authorities said.
The protesters threw chairs, pushed over camera tripods and pounded legislators with their fists. Broken glass littered the floor.
Police used stun grenades to disperse protesters.
Talat Xhaferi, a former defense minister and member of the Democratic Union for Integration, was elected speaker by a coalition of the Social Democratic Union party and others representing Macedonia’s Albanian ethnic minority.
In December, Gruevski’s conservative party won elections but didn’t have a majority of votes to form an administration. Ethnic Albanians demand that Albanian be recognized as an official second language in a country in which one-quarter are ethnic Albanians.
President Gjorge Ivanov called for “reasonable and responsible behavior” during a national address and said he had summoned the leaders of the country’s main political parties to meet Friday.
“Lawmakers are primarily responsible for restoring the situation in accordance to the Constitution and laws, which were violated today,” he said.
The American Embassy in Skopje, in a post on Twitter, condemned the violence “in the strongest terms” and asked all parties to “refrain from violent actions which exacerbate the situation.”
“A majority of MPs elected Talaat Xhaferi as Speaker of Parliament during a regular continued session of Parliament, witnessed by members of the public and the press. We will work with him to support democracy and to advance the interest of Macedonia,” the embassy said on Twitter.
Macedonia, with an estimated population of 2,084,513 in 2017, according to countrymeters, is a country in the Balkan peninsula in Southeast Europe. Macedonia declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991.