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Macedonia: Boskovski Defies Resignation Calls

The hard line interior minister's cowboy image has taken a further knock after he accidentally wounded four people in an impromptu shooting exercise.
By Ana Petruseva

Macedonia's hawkish interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, has fended off calls for his resignation following a shooting incident last Wednesday in which he injured four people.

Two interior ministry officials, a journalist and an interpreter were wounded when the minister test-fired a grenade launcher at the end of a display by special police forces in western Macedonia.

The grenade Boskovski fired hit a rock, sending shrapnel flying into a crowd that had gathered to watch him at a Lions' exercise near the town of Leunovo.

The Lions unit, formed by Boskovski last year to combat ethnic Albanian guerrillas, has been involved in numerous incidents involving civilians, and diplomats have described it as unprofessional, intimidating and sub-standard.

The European Commission in its latest report on Macedonia recommended that the unit be disbanded, as it said it had caused nothing but trouble.

But some people fear that if it is broken up, it will simply turn into the governing VMRO-DPMNE's private militia, which might be an even more dangerous development.

"This is how I am going to enter the election campaign," Boskovski said, kneeling on a sand bag to fire the grenade launcher. Footage showed him firing several rounds before standing up and smiling at the crowd. Seconds later screams were heard.

In the last few months, Boskovski's hard line nationalism has gone down well with the Macedonian voters, boding well for the VMRO-DMPNE's prospects in elections scheduled for September 15. The incident may change all that.

Boskovski expressed regret for the shooting accident and said he would accept responsibility. However, the interior ministry was far from apologetic.

In a statement, it declared the incident of minor importance and said spectators had been warned not to get too close. The Lions' deputy commander, Boban Utkovski, who was in charge of the exercise, said the minister was experienced in handling weapons but the crowd had failed to follow safety instructions. Witnesses denied this, saying spectators were not warned to move away.

One western diplomat said the latest incident was typical of Boskovski's "clown-like stunts" which "threaten to destroy the image of this country".

Nikola Popovski, of the largest opposition party, the Social Democrats, said, "This could have been expected. After he started distributing weapons all over the place, showing up in uniform and then picking up guns... something like this was bound to happen."

After the storm of criticism, the interior ministry last Friday sought to blame Utkovski for the incident, and a court in Gostivar, western Macedonia, failed to summon Boskovski to attend a hearing on the incident.

Boskovski, one of the most high-profile politicians in Macedonia, has gone to ground since the affray, pursued by accusations in the media of behaving like a scandalous cowboy.

"Boskovski should end up behind bars, either in jail or in a psychiatric clinic," said Branko Gerovski, editor of Dnevnik, the daily newspaper that the journalist wounded in the incident works for. "Should this man be allowed to kill someone before he is forced to quit his post?" read the front page of the daily paper Vest.

The premier, Ljupco Georgievski, has chosen not to pass comment over the incident. Sources say he has met Boskovski to discuss the damage it might inflict on the party's standing in the forthcoming elections.

On Monday, around 300 journalists protested in front of the government building, dressed in helmets and flack jackets. The organisers urged the protesters to boycott the minister's future public appearances. Journalists from the state owned media were not allowed to take part.

Ana Pertruseva is regular IWPR contributor from Skopje

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