Macedonian Protesters Storm Parliament After Ethnic Albanian Elected Speaker

Zaev
Macedonian police escorts injured members of the parliament including Social Democratic leader Zoran Zaev near the parliament in Skopje. Macedonia April 27, 2017. Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Dozens of protesters broke into Macedonia's parliament building in Skopje on Thursday, injuring 77 people after lawmakers elected an ethnic Albanian as speaker.

The crowd of protesters, many whom were masked, stormed the parliament building, demonstrating against the election of Talat Xhaferi, a member of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority, as speaker of the house. The group of protesters gathered outside forced their way in shortly after the vote, waving Macedonian flags and blocking politicians from leaving, while yelling "traitors" at them. Police stormed the building, firing stun grenades to disperse protesters and clear an exit path for MPs to leave the building.

Among the injured was Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev and leader of the opposition, who was pictured with blood running from his head.

Macedonia's government has been at stalemate since the election. Though ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski's nationalist VMRO party won by two seats, it could not form a government without the support of ethnic Albanian lawmakers. The VMRO's attempts to build a coalition failed as it would not accept conditions such as the introduction of Albanian as a second language in Macedonia.

The Social Democrats, led by Zaev, proved more flexible, but has this triggered mass protests on the streets of the Balkan nation. Its inter-ethnic tensions have previously threatened to turn violent in the past, with clashes near its border with Albanian-speaking Kosovo in 2001. As street protests against Zaev's decision raged in Skopje, President Gjorge Ivanov, also aligned with Gruevski's VMRO, decided not to ratify Zaev's coalition in March, despite him having enough support in parliament to control a majority. This has left the country's government deadlocked.

Ethnic Albanians make up around a quarter of Macedonia's population, more densely so near the border between the two countries. Nationalists fear a government supported by pro-Albanian elements would bring promote policies that reduce Macedonian unity.

Responding to the violence inside Macedonia's parliament, the Albanian government called the actions of protesters "unacceptable and not worthy of a parliamentary democracy." NATO, which brokered the ceasefire deal to end the 2001 crisis, also condemned Thursday's events.