North Macedonia: 16 jailed for parliament attack

Defendants, their defenders and security officers stand during the reading of the verdict in a criminal court in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, March 15, 2019. A court in North Macedonia has sentenced 16 people, including a former interior minister, from 7 to 18 years in prison for their role in a violent intrusion in parliament at the height of a political crisis in 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Defendants, their defenders and security officers stand during the reading of the verdict in a criminal court in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, March 15, 2019. A court in North Macedonia has sentenced 16 people, including a former interior minister, from 7 to 18 years in prison for their role in a violent intrusion in parliament at the height of a political crisis in 2017. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
Former interior minister of North Macedonia Mitko Cavkov, center, looks on while seated in a courtroom, during the verdict in a criminal court in Skopje, North Macedonia, Friday, March 15, 2019. In one of the largest trials since the country declared independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, the court ruled the highest - 18-year jail sentence to former interior minister Mitko Cavkov on charge of endangering constitutional order and security. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

SKOPJE, North Macedonia — A court in North Macedonia on Friday sentenced 16 people, including a former interior minister, from 7 to 18 years in prison for their role in a mob invasion of parliament at the height of a political crisis in 2017.

In one of the largest trials since the country's independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, the court sentenced former interior minister Mitko Cavkov to 18 years in prison after finding him guilty of charges of endangering the constitutional order and security.

Fifteen others received sentences between seven and 15 years for similar offences, while one defendant — prominent opera singer Igor Durlovski — was acquitted.

More than 100 people, including lawmakers and journalists, were injured in the April 2017 incident when an angry mob stormed parliament and tried to block the election of a new speaker.

Judge Dobrila Kacarska said the attack had been carefully planned in advance, with pre-selected targets including current Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and other lawmakers in his left-wing Social Democrats and their allies.

"The shameful parliament violence jeopardized the reputation of North Macedonia," she said.

Defense lawyers said they would appeal the verdicts.

The conservative main opposition VMRO-DPMNE party claimed Friday's rulings were politically biased and unfair. Most of the convicted are former VMRO officials or supporters.

"This case was judged by political motives, not legal facts," party secretary-general Igor Janusev said in a statement. "(North) Macedonia is a country where justice is trampled upon and the rule of law does not exist."

A total pf 33 people had been initially charged over the parliament invasion. But 15 were later pardoned under a special amnesty because they had not been accused of engaging in acts of violence.

Those pardoned included three VMRO lawmakers, who — after the amnesty — rebelled against their party's line and backed the government in a crucial vote on North Macedonia's historic name deal with neighboring Greece. VMRO expelled the three for that, accusing them of a trade-off with Zaev's Social Democrats.

One more suspect is due to be tried separately.

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