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Protests after Macedonia deaths

Police
A hooded Macedonian police officer on patrols in Tetovo  


SKOPJE, Macedonia (CNN) -- Protests have been taking place in the Macedonian capital Skopje after a landmine killed seven Macedonian soldiers and injured nine.

The truck in a military convoy hit the mine six miles north of the capital, Skopje, near the village of Ljuboten, according to the Defence Ministry.

Friday's deaths prompted a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Skopje by protesters who accuse NATO of favouring the ethnic Albanian rebels.

This marks the second time since the Macedonian Slav majority government and ethnic Albanian minority agreed to provisionally sign a peace deal that government troops have been killed.

The peace accord is designed to end six months of rebellion and lead to disarmament of the rebels. The pact is scheduled to be signed on Monday, according to European Union envoy Francois Leotard.

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About 300 to 400 protesters gathered in front of the parliament building on Friday night and marched to the U.S. Embassy, where they were held back by police as they tried to break into the grounds amid shouts of "NATO killers" and "NATO Albanians." Rocks were thrown but there was no damage to the embassy.

After about a half hour, the protesters moved to the nearby British and German embassies, where they were also pushed away, then made their way back to the parliament building. Police blocked bridges to prevent them from going into other parts of the city.

The earlier deaths of government troops occurred on Wednesday, when 10 Macedonian soldiers were killed when their convoy was ambushed on the road between Skopje and Tetovo, the centre of fighting between the ethnic Albanian rebels and government troops.

Funerals for the 10 soldiers were scheduled to take place in Friday in Prilep.

Referring to Friday's deaths, U.S. peace envoy James Pardew said on a visit to Macedonia's neighbour Bulgaria: "This is clearly a setback for the peace process, but it is critical that this agreement is signed on Monday," Reuters reported.

Under terms of the peace pact agreed between Macedonia's political leaders on Wednesday, the rebels would renounce violence in return for greater rights for the one-third Albanian minority, and NATO troops would collect their arms.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in a letter to the international community that the latest death toll among the security forces showed the guerrillas were highly unlikely to disarm voluntarily.

"Since it is natural to assume that, following everything that has happened, the so-called NLA will not proceed with voluntary disarmament, perhaps this should be a sign for the process and plan for disarmament to be redesigned," it said.






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