Protests stall Tetovo bill

January 2, 2004

A bill to legalise Macedonia's Albanian-language Tetovo University has been put on hold at the last minute after demonstrations by the Slav majority.

The government feared that the escalating row over the bill, which had also antagonised Slav academia, would delay the 200z4 budget.

The legislation was intended to transform Tetovo from a private and extralegal initiative into part of the state educational system.

The protesters, mainly students from Macedonia's two Slavophone universities of Skopje and Bitola, gathered outside parliament and the ministry of education blowing whistles and hurling eggs and firecrackers, to demand the replacement of education minister Aziz Pollozhani, an Albanian.

Students at Skopje held a "day of mourning" - they wore black armbands and dumped university handbooks in rubbish bins.

Faculty from Skopje and Bitola claimed that legalising Tetovo would be contrary to Macedonia's constitution. They said it did not meet the minimum standards for a university: it did not own its own building, its facilities were poor and only 48 of its lecturers had a doctorate.

The governing Social Democratic Alliance of Macedonia and Albanian community leaders claimed the protesters had been manipulated by the opposition Internal Macedonian Organisation-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity. It denied organising the demonstrations but admitted supporting them.

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