A long-simmering political crisis in Macedonia erupted late on Thursday when a mob of angry nationalists attacked lawmakers inside Parliament, bloodying Zoran Zaev, leader of the Social Democrats, and injuring at least three others.
The demonstrators were protesting the election of a new speaker supported by the Social Democrats and parties representing the country’s ethnic Albanian minority, about one-quarter of the population.
Protesters threw chairs and punches and shouted “traitors” at the lawmakers during the clash, according to The Associated Press, with video showing one member of the Social Democrats, Radmila Sekerinska, being grabbed by her hair and tossed backward. Journalists working inside the building were also attacked by the protesters.
About 200 protesters stormed into Parliament, according to Reuters, overwhelming the few police officers securing the building in Skopje, the country’s capital.
An election in December resulted in a virtual tie between the Social Democrats and the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party. While the conservatives won by a very narrow margin, they did not pick up enough seats to form a government.
Mr. Zaev of the Social Democrats has cobbled together a majority through a coalition with the Democratic Union for Integration, an ethnic Albanian party. But for months, the president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov, has refused to give him the mandate to form a government, citing “legal and political” reasons.
On Thursday, the majority elected Talat Xhaferi, a former defense minister and member of the Democratic Union for Integration, as speaker. Part of his role would include formally petitioning the president to ask Mr. Zaev to form a government.
This vote set off at violent clash in which police and protesters were also injured. Some of the protesters were bare-chested, others wore masks, and many were waving Macedonia’s flag.
Conservative lawmakers labeled the vote a coup.
Macedonia, a Balkan nation of about 2.1 million people, is a candidate for joining the European Union, and officials from the bloc criticized the violence and called the election of Mr. Xhaferi a “positive note.”
“We condemn in the strongest terms today’s ongoing attacks on the members of the Parliament in Skopje,” said Federica Mogherini, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy at the European Union, and Johannes Hahn, the bloc’s commissioner for enlargement. “Democracy must run its course. We take positive note of the election of Talat Xhaferi as Speaker of the Parliament.”
The demonstrators controlled the Parliament until a much larger group of police reinforcements arrived and managed to push them outside. The police then used stun grenades to disperse the crowd around the building to clear a path to evacuate the lawmakers, Reuters reported.
For almost two months, supporters of the conservative party have gathered in Skopje and throughout the country, claiming that they will prevent any attempt by Mr. Zaev to form a government. The protesters oppose the coalition’s call to grant greater rights to ethnic Albanians, including by making Albanian an official language across Macedonia.