Death toll rises in Macedonia clashes, EU ‘deeply concerned’

European Union officials expressed “deep concern” after a day-long gun battle in northern Macedonia killed eight police officers and 14 gunmen.

Dozens more were wounded in the clashes Saturday in the city of Kumanovo, 40 kilometers northeast of the capital, Skopje, in an ethnically Albanian area near the borders of Kosovo and Serbia.

Skirmishes continued Sunday, as the Macedonian government declared a two-day period of national mourning for those killed.  President Gjorge Ivanov called a meeting of his security council in response to the events.

Interior Ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski earlier said the gunmen had entered from a neighboring country he did not identify, to attack state institutions.

Both Albania and Kosovo, the latter country inhabited primarily by ethnic Albanians, issued statements expressing concern that called for calm and ethnic harmony in Macedonia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made a similar request.

“I urge everyone to exercise restraint and avoid any further escalation, in the interest of the country and the whole region,” he said.

Ethnic Albanians, who comprise about 25 percent of Macedonia’s two million people, took up arms in 2001 demanding more rights.  A Western-mediated peace deal resolved the conflict after six months.

Thousands of protesters clashed with riot police last week in Skopje, where political tensions have simmered since allegations of electoral fraud in 2014 elections.