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Macedonians protest police brutality and corruption

Several thousand people gathered outside of Macedonia’s parliament on May 6 to protest the 2011 police killing of a young man along with attempts by government officials to cover it up.

The demonstration lasted for about five hours with protesters demanding the resignation of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and other government officials for their alleged parts in covering up the killing of 22-year-old Martin Neskoski by police on June 6, 2011.

Aleksandar Neskoski, Martin’s brother, also spoke to the crowd at the protest.

“We are gathered here in large numbers,” he told Balkan Insight. “We will get together again tomorrow and every day until we see command responsibility for the killing of Martin.”

The relatively peaceful protest on Wednesday contrasted sharply with the protests held on the previous day. On Tuesday, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, Zoran Zaev, released audio of phone conversations between the prime minister, the interior minister, and other government officials in which they discussed how to cover up the killing of Neskoski by a policeman during the 2011 election celebrations.

Shortly after that, around midnight, more than a thousand protesters gathered outside a government building in the capital, Skopje, and some threw objects at the windows. Police in riot gear and armored vehicles tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons. Protesters threw objects at police and lit garbage containers on fire. One protester and 38 police officers were reportedly injured that night, and dozens of people were arrested.

“It was a brutal attack on the police,” Jankuloska told the Associated Press.

Sashka Cvetkovska, a Nova TV journalist, told the BBC that some police had used excessive force on protesters, including women and girls.

The catalyst for these protests, Martin Neskoski’s death at the hands of police, occurred during celebrations for the ruling conservative party’s election victory in 2011. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen police brutally beat Neskoski to death. For two days, police and government officials denied that the beating ever happened. They then changed their story, claiming that the policeman responsible, Igor Spasov, was not on duty at the time and was now in custody. Spasov, a member of the special police force Tigri, or Tigers, in charge of protecting the prime minister, claimed that, after attempting to get close to the prime minister multiple times, Neskoski ran away, tripped over some wires, and hit the asphalt with his head. Spasov was ultimately convicted of the murder and given 14 years in prison.

Weeks of protests and unrest followed Neskoski’s death.

Along with releasing the audio showing government officials plotting how to cover up Neskoski’s death, Zaev, who himself has been charged with espionage, also accused the government of illegally wiretapping more than 20,000 people over several years, including journalists, judges and legislators. Since February, Zaev has been releasing audio that apparently shows the current government’s authoritarian nature. The opposition party that he leads have been boycotting parliament for almost a year due to claims of fraud in the April 2014 elections.

Gruevski claims that Zaev is planning a coup and is merely using Neskoski’s death to his political advantage. Gruevski also denies wiretapping anyone or trying to cover up Neskoski’s death. Jankulovska called Zaev’s accusations “absurd” and also accused Zaev of political opportunism.

More protests are planned for the future with Zaev’s party planning a large anti-government protest on May 17.