Tensions Flare at North Macedonia Shootout Hearing

There were chaotic scenes at Skopje's Appeals Court on Thursday, with the defendants shouting that they do not recognise the court, at the start of a hearing to decide on whether to hold a retrial of 33 ethnic Albanians who were convicted of involvement in a deadly two-day shootout in the town of Kumanovo in May 2015.

The defendants reiterated their claim that they were victims of a political set-up by the former North Macedonian government led by ex-premier Nikola Gruevski, and asked for an international investigation with testimonies from top-ranking former and current officials.

The two-day shootout between ethnic Albanian gunmen and the security forces in the northern town of Kumanovo in May 2015 left 18 people dead, including eight police officers.

Life sentences were given to seven of the 37 defendants in the case in November 2017. The rest mostly got long jail terms, although four were acquitted. Sixteen of them were originally from Kosovo and were ex-members of the Kosovo Liberation Army.

At the start of Thursday's hearing, one of the defendants, Genci Sefa, demanded a one-minute silence for those killed in the shootout.

Tensions boiled over when the court did not allow Sefa to read a joint statement by all the defendants, insisting that there would be time for individual statements later.

"We have been waiting for four years to speak! You should be silent!" Sefa told the court when he was asked to sit down.

The defendants expressed their anger, shouting in Albanian: "We want an international investigation" and "We are in our own land here. This is Albania… You are the newcomers here".

Eventually most of the defendants left the courtroom, saying they were doing so in protest. The court allowed this, arguing...

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