SKOPJE (North Macedonia) -- Police said that 47 officers were injured in a protest at the North Macedonian capital in protest against a proposal to end the impasse in the country's attempts to join the European Union.
After a group of mostly young people broke away from the main protest and began throwing stones, metal bars, eggs, and Molotov cocktails at Skopje's parliament building late Tuesday, the injuries occurred.
Since the weekend, thousands have protested over a French compromise proposal that would lift objections from neighboring Bulgaria to North Macedonia's joining the European Union.
Police claimed that 11 protesters had been detained. The attacks on police were condemned by Dimitar Kovacevski, Prime Minister of Bulgaria. He said violence is not justified.
Oliver Spasovski, Interior Minister, visited the wounded police officers at a hospital Wednesday. He stated that an investigation was ongoing into the instigators to the violence and warned them they would be subject to the "strictest possible punishments."
Spasovski stated that "we all know very well who is behind these protests and who called them for them."
Bulgaria, an EU member, has the right to veto new members. It wants North Macedonia, as a formal recognition of its language's Bulgarian roots, to recognize a Bulgarian minority in the country, and to end "hate speech" about Bulgaria. Many North Macedonians believe that acquiescing to demands would be detrimental to their national identity.
The French deal is supported by Stevo Pendarovski (North Macedonia's president) and the government. It requires that the country recognize in its constitution the existence a Bulgarian ethnic minority. It would also allow for periodic reviews of how the bilateral dispute are being resolved, which could possibly hinder North Macedonia’s future path to EU membership.
Bulgaria has accepted the French proposal and now needs the support of North Macedonia's Parliament. On Thursday, lawmakers will meet to create a committee to investigate the matter. There has not yet been a plenary session.
Many international law experts, civic organizations, and the main opposition party VMRO–DPMNE claim that the French proposal favors Bulgarian demands, which are in direct conflict with Macedonian views on regional history, identity, and heritage.
Since 1997, North Macedonia is a candidate for EU membership. Although the country was given the green light to start accession negotiations in 2020, no date has been established.
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