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Tensions Rise as Macedonians Clash Over Budget

December 26, 2012

While opposition and government party members and supporters were locked in a stand-off, separated by a police cordon, Macedonian parliament has passed the 2013 controversial budget within minutes.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic, Balkan Insight, 24.12.2012
 Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Unfazed by street protests, the ruling majority passed the 2013 budget in minutes after opposition MPs and journalists were kicked out of the parliament.

Outside, stones, eggs, apples and tomatoes flew between the two groups of up to several thousand people separated by a police cordon in front of the Macedonian parliament on Monday.

A 70-year-old man and a 30-year-old woman were injured by flying stones and taken to hospital.

On one side were opposition MPs and their supporters who have pledged to prevent the government from adopting the budget in what they call an “illegal” way. On the other,  supporters of the VMRO-DPMNE-led government, demanding that the budget gets a green light in parliament.

Police had both groups cordoned off on different sides in front of the parliament with a buffer zone in between until a group led by opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski managed to break through and rushed towards the opposing rally by the Triumphal arch.

Police in full riot gear intervened and managed to push back the opposition supporters and prevent the two groups from clashing.

Incident in parliamentWhile the police is trying to keep the opposing rallies away from each other in front of parliament, an incident was reported in the parliament building.

Opposition deputies from the Social democrats initially tried to block the door for the main assembly hall and prevent the MPS from the ruling coalition to enter.

According to media the security was called to intervene as MPs from the ruling parties entered the hall through a back door. As deputies got into the plenary hall opposition one group surrounded the parliamentary speaker. Video showed a shouting match and a scuffle after which one opposition MP was seen taken out to the hall.

According to media reports the parliamentary speaker was evacuated while three MPs have been injured in the scuffle.

Security kicked out journalists from the parliament drawing an angry response from media and Journalists’ Associations.

In the meantime the ruling majority managed to pass the budget through parliament within minutes.

“Everything we did today, we did for the good of the people and the state”, said parliament speaker Trajko Veljanovski, after the ruling parties, swiftly and with the opposition expelled from the building, adopted the budget.

After the budget was adopted the protesters left the city centre.

Parliament’s Commission on Financing and Budget was blocked with over 1,200 amendments submitted by the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM.

The opposition had resisted the government’s plan to raise two fresh loans from the World Bank at the start of next year, totaling between 250 and 300 million euros, insisting that the government has already raised the debt too high and aims to boost spending instead of cutting costs.

To raise the loan, the government needed approval from the parliament.

The situation became more complicated on Sunday afternoon when the government at an emergency session adopted a new draft budget, said to contain only minor changes, and sent it back to parliament.

To bypass the parliamentary blockade in the commission, the government filed and voted the new draft at a plenary session on Monday.

The opposition deemed this illegal and its leaders spent the night before parliament.

Opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

“We will wage this battle till the end. We will do everything to protect democracy, constitutional order and the country,” opposition leader Branko Crvenkovski said.

“This is Gruevski’s October 5,” he said on Monday, referring to the massive protests in Serbia in October 2000 that toppled Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic.

Groups supporting the opposition who wanted to join the rallies from other towns were prevented by police who stopped their buses. A group coming from the central town of Veles blocked the main highway demanding to be allowed to pass to Skopje.

Another group of buses supporting the Social Democrats coming from the southeastern town of Strumica managed to trick the police and reach the capital by waving VMRO flags.

Over the last week, student associations, athletes, pensioners, farmers and even artists, claiming to be independent came to the aid of the government by staging protests against the blockade. They insisted that their regular wages and funds are in jeopardy.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

On Sunday a newly formed initiative against the blockade called “People’s Front, Front for Macedonia,” announced a protest rally.

“As a human being, as a citizen of this country and as Prime Minister, I appeal to the opposition to stop manipulating people and creating uncertainty over what may happen next year,” Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski said on Sunday.

Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic
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