Violence Mars Second Night Of Macedonian Protests Over Albanian Demands

Thousands of Macedonians have staged protests for a second day against calls by ethnic Albanian parties to make Albanian the country's second official language.

The protests in the capital, Skopje, and other cities on February 28 were led again by the former ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party, which contends the demand to institute bilingualism will splinter the country's unity.

The Skopje rally was marred by violence as two journalists from the A1on news outlet -- cameraman Vladimir Zelceski and journalist Aleksandar Todevski -- were attacked while reporting on the protests, Balkan Insight reported.

A1on editor in chief Predrag Petrovic said protesters attacked the reporters from behind and took their camera, throwing it to the ground and destroying it. He said the reporters were taken to an emergency medical center to be examined.

Ethnic Albanians comprise about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million people, and Albanian is already an official language in minority-dominated areas.

But ethnic Albanian parties want its adoption nationwide, emboldened by their newfound political influence after December's inconclusive parliamentary elections.

The conservatives won the most votes, but not enough seats to govern alone. Talks to form a coalition with the Albanian parties failed over the language demand.

That led the ethnic Albanian parties to make a deal with the leader of the center-left party that finished second in the elections, who agreed to their demand to expand the use of Albanian nationwide.

Social Democratic Union (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev is expected to be handed a mandate to try and form a government as early as March 1.

With Macedonia seemingly plunged into another phase of a long-running political crisis by the latest protests, the U.S. State Department on February 28 issued a call for "Macedonia's leaders to form a new government without further delay."

"All parties [should] put the interests of Macedonia and its citizens above all else," the department said.

With reporting by AP and Balkan Insight