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Russia voices worry over Macedonian violence

16 may 2015, 12:04

 Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Moscow was worried about the stability of Macedonia and the whole Balkans region after a recent eruption of deadly violence there, AFP reports.

"The latest events in Macedonia are very worrying... as well as terrorist tendencies emerging in the Balkans," Sergei Lavrov told reporters in the Serbian capital.

"We believe that those events reflect an unstable situation in that country and the Balkans ... it is (the) implementation of well prepared, planned and executed terrorist acts."

Lavrov's comments followed a shooting in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo nearly a week ago that left 22 people dead including eight police officers.

The incident came amid a political crisis in the country, with an ongoing struggle between Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and main opposition party leader Zoran Zaev that has sparked clashes in the streets of the capital Skopje.

Tensions are rising ahead of further protests at the weekend to demand that the government resigns, following allegations made by Zaev that the ruling party wiretapped 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists.

While the weekend violence between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian police was the worst in the country for 14 years, the EU has warned that it should not distract attention from Macedonia's "very serious internal political situation" nor be used "to introduce ethnic tensions".

But Lavrov, who spoke after meeting his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic, criticised Brussels' attitude towards the Balkans.

"The need for concrete action cannot be replaced by political correctness," he said.

Lavrov said the latest developments "occur as the Macedonian government refuses to join sanctions (imposed by EU against Russia over the Ukrainian crisis) and supports the Turkish Stream project".

    Islamic State is recruiting' 

Russian energy giant Gazprom announced earlier this month that the Turkish Stream pipeline would start operating in December 2016, designed to offer an alternative to shipping Russian gas via Ukraine.

It replaces a scrapped plan to build a South Stream pipeline under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, to supply southern Europe while skirting Ukraine, which was axed in December as relations between Brussels and Moscow nosedived.

Lavrov also voiced Moscow's concern over the activities of Islamic extremists in the Balkans, saying that "Islamic State is active and is recruiting youngsters to send them to the Middle East and north Africa".

Although Muslims in the Balkans are mostly moderate, about 600 people from Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia have joined jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to estimates.

The Russian minister also criticised "recent statements by Albanian politicians aimed at reviving the project of creating a 'Greater Albania' that worry us". He did not elaborate.

"Greater Albania" is a nationalist project seeking to unite all Albanians from the region in one state, including Kosovo, a territory with an ethnic Albanian majority that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 but remains unrecognised by Belgrade and the UN.

Gruevski and Zaev held talks on Thursday with ethnic Albanian party leaders, under international pressure to resolve Macedonia's crisis. They are due to resume on Monday.

Gruevski's government itself has accused Zaev and four others espionage and violence against officials.

Late Thursday, Ali Ahmeti, leader of the main ethnic Albanian DUI party, which is the junior parter of the government, claimed he was contacted by the rebels when the Kumanovo shooting started.

"First I received a text message and while I was reading it my mobile phone rang. Someone told me ... come and help us," he told Alsat-M television in Albanian language.

Ahmeti explained he did not know the identity of the caller as he heard heavy shooting in the background.

“Take our wounded (people) and we will negotiate,” said the caller, Ahmeti said adding he had immediately informed foreign diplomats in Skopje seeking their help.

Lavrov, on a one-day visit to Russia's traditional ally Serbia, was also due to meet Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic.

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