May 10, 2015 6:23 AM

Report: Death toll rises after 2nd day of Macedonia clashes

The Associated Press

KUMANOVO, Macedonia (AP) Fighting between police forces and members of an armed group has continued for a second day in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo.

Local TV channels Alfa and 24 Vesti on Sunday reported that another police officer has died due to severe injuries sustained in the fighting, increasing the death toll of officers to six. At least another 30 were injured in an exchange of fire between special police forces and an armed group that started in the town on Saturday.

Early Sunday, ambulances in Kumanovo were seen carrying wounded policemen and sporadic gunfire was heard.

The Macedonian government has declared two days of mourning for those killed in the operation. Sport events and political gatherings have been canceled.

Interior minister Gordana Jankulovska told reporters late Saturday that over 20 members of the armed group had surrendered, but that others refused to give up arms and were holed up in houses in Diva Naselba, a neighborhood in western Kumanovo.

She said the "terrorist group," which had entered Macedonia from an unspecified neighboring country, planned plan to "use the current political situation to perform attacks on state institutions." She didn't provide any more details about the organization.

The clashes come as Macedonia is grappling with its deepest political crisis since its independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991. The government and the opposition have accused each other of planning to destabilize the country to take or preserve power, and some analysts fear leaders on both sides are ready to provoke ethnic clashes as leverage.

Kumanovo is an ethnically mixed town located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital Skopje, near the border with Kosovo and Serbia. The region was the center of hostilities between ethnic Albanian rebels and government forces during the ethnic conflict in 2001.

Ethnic Albanians, who make up a quarter of Macedonia's 2 million people, took up arms in 2001 demanding more rights. The conflict ended after six months with a western-brokered peace deal that granted more rights to the minority group.


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