Macedonia mourns killings of 5 men
Skopje - Macedonia is mourning the killing of five men, the worst mass murder in the history of the tiny Balkan country that has fuelled speculation they were ethnic-related.
The municipality of Butel, where the killings occurred, has declared a day of mourning and flags have been lowered to half staff.
The men were found shot dead late on Thursday near an artificial lake just north of the capital, Skopje.
The victims were ethnic Macedonians, all fishermen. Four were in their 20s, and the fifth was in his 40s. Media identified them as Filip Slavkovski, Aleksandar Nakjevski, Tsvetanco Atsevski, Kire Trickovski and Borce Stefanovski. Their bodies have been returned to their families following examination by forensic experts and their funerals were under way.
Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska said on Saturday that "more than one perpetrator" killed the five men, using three types of firearms.
She said that "by this point we (police) are still unable to say that the killings were ethnic-related because the police have no suspects".
Tensions have been simmering in Macedonia since the end of an armed rebellion in 2001, when ethnic Albanian rebels fought Macedonian government forces for about eight months, seeking greater rights for their community. The conflict left 80 people dead, and ended with the intervention of Nato troops.
Jankulovska said "we are investigating all possibilities, even that this was a professional murder and that the murderers fled abroad. We have established contacts with the police in neighbouring countries."
She also urged for restraint on the eve of Easter celebrations.
Riot police were deployed on Friday on a highway leading to the village as dozens of angry youths blocked the road. A group among the mob smashed the windows of a vehicle belonging to a reporter for private TV station "24 News" and threw stones at passing buses.
Fears of ethnic conflict have moved officials, from President Gjorge Ivanov on down, to issue calls for restraint and a speedy investigation. The US Embassy has urged "all parties concerned to remain calm, and to refrain from speculation or unfounded allegations".
There were two flare-ups of violence this year, the last one in March, with clashes between gangs of Albanian and ethnic Macedonian youths resulting in dozens of injuries. During several days of rioting, youths attacked buses and used iron bars, knives and baseball bats in street fights.
Ethnic Albanians, who are mostly Muslim, make up a quarter of Macedonia's population of 2.1 million people in a country that is majority Orthodox Christian.