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Macedonian rioters wreck shops

Wreckage
Wreckage from the shops littered the streets  

SKOPJE, Macedonia -- Shops run by ethnic Albanians have been demolished during riots in the Macedonian city of Bitola following the deaths of eight soldiers.

At least ten shops in the ethnically-mixed city were destroyed a night after dozens of buildings were damaged as several hundred young Slavs hurled stones and set fire to them, state radio reported.

The rioting began hours after the funerals of soldiers killed on Saturday by ethnic Albanian militants near the border with Kosovo, the Associated Press said.

Four of the dead were from Bitola, about 170 kilometres (105 miles) southwest of the capital, Skopje, and six other soldiers were injured in the ambush.

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The ambush was the most deadly attack since Macedonian forces and ethnic Albanian militants began fighting in February.

Ethnic Albanians make up about one-third of Macedonia's two million people. They have been demanding equal status with majority Slavs in the country.

Violence has been mostly centred around Tetovo, a predominantly ethnic Albanian city in northwestern Macedonia.

In another incident, shots were fired at the Albanian Embassy by a passing car on Tuesday evening, state radio said. No one was injured.

Violence first erupted in February when a rebel group launched attacks against the security forces, demanding that Macedonia's constitution be rewritten to upgrade ethnic Albanians' status in the country.

Mourners
Macedonian women light candles in memories of the soldiers  

During a visit to the U.S., Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski gained support from Secretary of State Colin Powell, who said the ethnic Albanian rebels were terrorists trying to subvert Macedonia's democratic process with "dastardly and cowardly acts."

In a separate incident on Tuesday, a small group of Albanian insurgents opened fire on a Macedonian police patrol near the village of Lipkovo, in northern Macedonia near the border with Yugoslavia, Macedonian state television reported.

Police returned fire and the ethnic Albanians retreated. No injuries were reported.

Police also evacuated the country's main airport in Skopje for 90 minutes on Tuesday after receiving a bomb threat, the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported.

It was reopened when no explosives were found.



RELATED STORIES:
Macedonia president rejects talks
May 2, 2001
Riot targets ethnic Albanians
May 1, 2001
Macedonia on alert after killings
April 29, 2001
Fighting on Macedonia-Kosovo border
February 26, 2001

RELATED SITES:
Macedonia
U.S. State Department

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