SKOPJE, Macedonia – Macedonia’s opposition chief rejected the president’s call for emergency party leaders’ talks Friday, hours after demonstrators — mostly supporters of the country’s dominant conservative party — invaded parliament and assaulted opposition lawmakers.
An official in the Social Democrat party told a news agency that party leader Zoran Zaev would not be attending the talks. The official, who did not provide further details, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.
Police said 102 people were injured during the Thursday night violence inside and outside parliament that followed the election of a new parliament speaker.
Zaev was among the victims, as were the head of a small ethnic Albanian opposition party and 22 police officers.
Speaking at a news conference in the capital of Skopje, Zaev described the attack on him, which left him with blood pouring down his face from a cut in his forehead, as “attempted murder.”
Zaev accused former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and President Gjorge Ivanov of provoking the violence, and said they were prepared “to sacrifice the state interest” for their own personal interests.
Another injured lawmaker, Social Democrat party Vice President Radmila Sekerinska, said she required three stitches and injured her neck when two individuals attacked her inside parliament.
Television footage from Thursday night showed a man grabbing her by the hair and twisting her around violently.
“We were more shocked than afraid. I cannot forget the faces of those who attacked me,” Sekerinska told a news agency Friday.
“It was a combination of lunacy, hatred and irrationality,” she said. “It was not anger..Angry individuals are not capable of looking at people and try to kill them.”
Macedonia, which became an independent nation in 1991 amid the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, is in a deep political crisis that started with a wiretapping scandal more than two years ago. An inconclusive parliamentary election in December further complicated matters.
The country has been functioning with a caretaker government since the election and is increasingly divided along ethnic lines. There have been frequent demonstrations against demands from Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority, which makes up one-quarter of the country’s population.
The European Union and the United States condemned Thursday’s violence, with the EU saying that the cornerstones of democracy should be respected. Both recognized the new ethnic Albanian parliament speaker, Talat Xhaferi of the Democratic Union for Integration party, and said they would work with him.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Friday that “violence is unacceptable, even more so when it happens in the house of democracy.”
In neighboring Serbia, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic called emergency security consultations over the unrest. Russia said it was “deeply concerned” about the events, but blamed the EU and United States for Macedonia’s turmoil.
In a statement issued Friday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the West’s “gross interference” in the internal affairs of Macedonia was the main reason for the political crisis.
The ministry alleged that the West’s quick welcoming of the new parliament speaker showed that the selection had been coordinated in advance. It described the alleged actions as an “unceremonious manipulation of the will of the citizens with the aim of removing the legitimate government from power.”
Gruevski, whose conservative VMRO-DPMNE party won December’s elections but without enough parliamentary seats to form a government, also deplored the violence, but said his political opponents had provoked it.
Speaking at his party headquarters early Friday, the former prime minister said the Social Democrats consciously violated Macedonia’s Constitution by electing the new speaker despite the months-old deadlock in efforts to form a new government.
“Greed to seize power at any cost is the direct cause which led to this adverse situation, and they bear responsibility for it,” Gruevski said.
The violence started when dozens of protesters, some masked, broke through a police cordon after the speaker’s election, shouting, throwing chairs and wielding camera tripods abandoned by startled journalists.
Police said arrests were made, but gave no further details.
Clashes lasted for hours Thursday night, with police initially doing little to stop the invasion, and the crowd inside parliament swelled to several hundred. Eventually, police used stun grenades to evacuate the building and free lawmakers and journalists trapped inside.
Agim Nuhiu, interior minister in the country’s interim government, has offered to resign over the failure by police to stop the protesters from storming parliament.
Macedonia’s political crisis started in early 2015, when Zaev accused then-prime minister Gruevski of masterminding a massive illegal wiretapping operation against the judiciary, police, politicians, journalists, foreign diplomats and religious leaders.
Gruevski denies wrongdoing, and has blamed the wiretaps on unspecified foreign spies.
His party won December’s elections with a slim majority, and then refused to form a coalition with ethnic Albanian parties who demanded that Albanian be declared the country’s official second language.
Zaev said he would consider the Albanian demands and struck a coalition deal, but the president refused him the mandate to govern, claiming the Albanian demands threaten the country’s sovereignty.
On Friday, Zaev said he expected that Xhaferi, the new parliament speaker, would demand that Ivanov give the mandate to form a government to Zaev in the coming days.
A six-month uprising by ethnic Albanian rebels seeking stronger minority rights in 2001 brought the country to the brink of civil war. Peace was secured after international mediation.