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Fighting Escalates in Macedonia

Aired July 24, 2001 - 18:05   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now back overseas, our top story still developing at this hour in Skopje, Macedonia. CNN's Juliette Terzieff joins us by telephone.

Have police, Juliette, gotten a handle on the situation with the protesters yet?

JULIETTE TERZIEFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Up until 5 minutes ago, the answer to that question is no. About a thousand people, mostly young men in their 20s and 30s, are still rampaging in the streets of Skopje. They have attacked Western businesses like McDonalds, as well as the German Embassy, the British Embassy and the American Embassy. They have been throwing rocks and using metal pipes to break windows and smash their way into buildings. And on their way, have been setting several vehicles on fire, as well as damaging many vehicles.

American diplomats in the capital say they are safe but shaky, and hoping that police will be able to get a handle on this. And as all of this is going on, the fighting in the northwest of the country continues. A half an hour ago, an ethnic Albanian rebel commander appeared via telephone on local TV saying that the ethnic Albanian rebels had advanced into the city of Tetovo. That they had planted the Albanian flag in the center of the city; and were at the moment, surrounding the army base on the eastern end of Tetovo.

As we have been able to hear from our basement hideout, there is a fierce battle going on the eastern side of the city, when we peeked our heads out a few moments ago, we were able to see some things burning on the army base.

HEMMER: Juliette, back to the protests, quickly, a government spokesman had critical words for NATO earlier today. Is that what people believe sparked these protests tonight? Or is it the actually fighting that's taking place, north and west of the capital city?

TERZIEFF: Well, that's a very good question, and the conventional wisdom on that is there are two reasons for what we're seeing in Skopje tonight. The first is that ethnic Albanian rebels have seized several villages north of Tetovo and have been forcing Macedonians to flee. Now, unfortunately, because of the hostilities, many are still trapped in the villages and many of the people that began their protest in front of the parliament earlier this afternoon were people who had to leave family members behind in those villages. And it was this group which grew into thousands and we now see rampaging through the streets of Skopje.

The second thing is the inflammatory rhetoric which you mentioned. The government spokesman (UNINTELLIGIBLE) earlier today said that NATO was a great friend of those seeking to rip (ph) up the country, referring to ethnic Albanian rebels fighting here in the north.

HEMMER: All right, Juliette Terzieff, on the telephone there in Macedonia. We're getting word also that the protesters in central Skopje, a calm has been restored, but certainly a situation that continues to be volatile. We will follow it throughout the evening here at CNN.

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