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Macedonia president flees protesters

SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Protesters stormed Macedonia's parliament building Monday, forcing President Boris Trajkovski and other politicians to flee.

Shooting broke out as at least 5,000 people gathered in front of the parliament building to demand the president's resignation on Monday evening.

Several police and at least 50 members of the army were said to have joined in the protests as the chaos erupted in capital Skopje.

CNN's Juliette Terzieff said the protesters were angered by the government's handling of a cease-fire with ethnic Albanian rebels.

She said they were furious that the rebels were being allowed to take their weapons with them as they withdrew from the Skopje suburb of Aracinovo.

They were also angry at the amount of involvement of the international community, saying it had too much influence in Macedonia's internal affairs.

Terzieff said sustained volleys of gunfire could be heard coming from four different directions.

She said the president and other politicians were evacuated. They were alive, but there were no details of their condition or their whereabouts, she added.

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Police set up road blocks around the building, allowing people to leave the area, but not to enter, she added.

The demonstrators broke through a cordon of police, hurled stones through windows and then succeeded in storming the doors.

Once inside, protesters hurled office contents through the glass windows in the three-story, concrete Stalinist-era building, which occupies an entire block in the center of the city. Macedonian flags were planted on balconies.

Several cars, including the president's Mercedes, were destroyed.

Turzieff added that several police officers and several journalists were injured in the storming, including one BBC journalist who "was beaten up and received fairly severe wounds."

The president has not issued any statements since the demonstrations began.

The violent protests came during a day that started with great progress following the announcement of a European Union-backed cease-fire, but degenerated into virtual chaos in the streets of the capital by nightfall.

Earlier, two U.S. KFOR soldiers were wounded near the village of Nikustak while supervising the withdrawal of ethnic Albanian rebels.

Their battalion came under fire, apparently from Macedonian troops, diplomats in Macedonia confirmed. They say the incident was an accident.

The wounded soldiers were evacuated by helicopter and their medical condition is unclear.

A NATO spokesman said 15 KFOR buses were transporting ethnic Albanian rebels from Aracinovo to the village of Nikustak, about two kilometers away.

The buses were provided by KFOR nations -- France, Italy and the United States.

The KFOR soldiers do not have a mandate in Macedonia. They were called into the area for logistical support. Several thousands of KFOR troops are stationed in Macedonia to assist with the rebel pullout.

KFOR is a NATO-led international force responsible for establishing a security presence in neighboring Kosovo.

Ethnic Albanian rebels agreed Monday to a general cease-fire in Macedonia and to pull back their forces one kilometer from Aracinovo, where they had been battling Macedonian troops since Friday.

The European Union had also called for a disarmament of the troops on Monday, but that failed to happen.

The rebels said they agreed to the pullback on the condition that Macedonian forces do not enter the village, and that the Macedonian side observed the cease-fire.

Elsewhere in the country, shelling and small arms fire could be heard, primarily in the northwest near Tetevo as rebels and government soldiers exchanged fire.

Locals were hired to drive the buses, the NATO spokesman said, and NATO-led KFOR soldiers were not involved in the rebel pullback.

cease-fire monitors from the EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are unarmed and the convoy is not being provided with an armed escort, according to the spokesman.

He said Macedonian government forces are being trusted not to attack the convoy.

EU and OSCE diplomats in Europe negotiated the rebel pullback from Aracinovo on Monday, a day after shelling there destroyed a brief truce in the village brokered by in European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

The rebels had said they would pull out of Aracinovo on Sunday if international monitors were put in place in the region, which was part of the agreement brokered the same day by Solana.

But after Solana left the region on Sunday, Macedonia reneged on this stipulation.

The ethnic Albanians say they are fighting for more rights from Macedonia's government.

The government accuses the rebels -- who make up a third of Macedonia's two million people -- of trying to split ethnic Albanian-populated areas from the rest of the country.

Solana attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday. He held out hope for a settlement despite the ongoing setbacks in Macedonia.

"It's going a little bit much slower than we thought but it's going well," he said.

EU Foreign Minister Chris Patten said earlier on Monday that the EU would not be able to approve aid and finance to Macedonia as long as it was spending much needed funds for reconstruction on arms and bullets.

"We would like to support confidence building measures, but it's difficult to build people's confidence when money in short supply is being spent on bombs and rockets," Patten said.

"So the sooner there can be a cease-fire permanently and the sooner there can be a political settlement, the sooner we'll be able to discuss investing the future peace, stability and prosperity."

CNN's Juliette Terzieff and Brussels Bureau Chief Patricia Kelly and journalist Vladimir Juzelov contributed to this report





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