As local elections draw ever nearer, local interest and discussion show no sign of waning. At midnight on Thursday 7 September 2000, all political broadcasts and meetings ended, heralding the start of the 48 hours "political silence" prior to voting.
Over the past two weeks, Municipal Election Commissions (MECs) had one major problem—a lack of finances (as reported last week). On Tuesday, 5 September, the Minister of Finance met with the State Election Commission and later announced that the Ministry of Finance will cover all the MECs' election expenses, releasing the MECs from a large financial burden and easing municipal disquiet.
Otherwise preparations for elections continue in a predictable fashion—generally, the situation is calm.
Attack on police chief
The Chief of Police for Kumanovo was attacked outside his home on the evening of Thursday, 7 September. The attackers fired several times at the man who was injured but not killed. The next morning, the Minister of the Interior, Dosta Dimovska, visited him in hospital and expressed her anger and disgust at the incident.
He has been declared to be in serious but stable condition, and a full investigation is expected.
Kumanovo has been the scene of several controversial incidents in recent months, due to its close proximity to the Serbian border.
All incidents have sparked the same range of speculation as to the perpetrators: Albanians from Kosovo trying to promote unrest; Macedonian Albanians trying to promote unrest; and Serb secret police trying to provoke an incident on a the border of a region in which Serbia faces increasing difficulty to control (the Preševo, Bujanovac and Medvedja region) where some believe Belgrade would like an excuse to intervene.
The Ministry of Transport, which covers construction, launched an attack this week on buildings in Skopje which have been built far higher than their planning permission allowed. Demolition has already started on two buildings owned by the private firm UPA Enterprises.
Planning permission was granted for "three plus one," eg three complete floors plus one 'attic' space. The buildings in question reached six plus one–far in excess of the height agreed with planning authorities.
Such circumstances are unsurprising in light of the flourishing private construction industry in Macedonia, which is sporadically regulated and visibly flouted. This week's actions may indicate governmental recognition of the scale of the problem or, as UPA Enterprises Director Ljubčo Palevski claims, may simply be a new tactic for the government to exert political pressure.
This seems unlikely to be the case, but recognising the political sensitivity of the matter, the Ministry of Construction has announced that demolition will pause for the duration of the electoral period, and resume at some juncture next week.
In addition, a 'Mountaineering Society' on the mountain of Kitka has received notice that three mountain huts have been constructed without planning permission and will be demolished. Unlike the previous example, this case does appear to have political overtones as the President of the Society is Petar Bocvarov.
Bocvarov is the Director of the Vodovod, a municipal water authority, and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, which has conducted a strong advertising campaign for the upcoming local elections based on implicit accusations of incompetence and corruption within the government (VMRO-DPMNE coalition) and the largest opposition party (SDSM) in Macedonia.
A1 television (one of the largest private stations in Macedonia) also received notice of demolition this week. The notice only affects a recently constructed annex to the legitimately built main building. The director of the television channel announced at a press conference that A1 will not interpret this in a political context, but will continue to work as an independent station and will not contest the notice.
Drug Seizures across the region
Bulgarian border guards seized 21 kilograms of heroin at the border with Romania on Wednesday, 6 September. The heroin was found in the spare wheel of a truck registered in Macedonia, and is believed to have been being transported from Macedonia to Hungary via Bulgaria and Romania.
Meanwhile, Macedonian police have raided the premises of many known drug dealers within the country.
Two known drug dealers were arrested at 20:00hrs on Tuesday, 5 September, on Bulevar Makedonska Kosovska Brigada in Skopje. The men were found in possession of a quantity of heroin.
After search warrants for their premises were issued, resulting investigations uncovered: a carrier bag full of heroin, 40 smaller packages of heroin and 5 large packages of marijuana and a "substantial quantity" of LSD. Similar raids were also carried out at other locations around the country, although a full report has not yet been issued.
Finally, on Friday, 8 September, a half kilo of "very good quality" heroin was found on a private bus in Saraj, a suburb village of Skopje. This is just one of the 12 packages seized by police this week in Skopje alone, and the evidence would seem to suggest an increasing drug problem within Macedonia.
President to USA
President Boris Trajkovski travelled to the United States this week to attend the United Nations' Millennium Summit in New York. The three-day summit (6 to 9 September) will address issues of war, famine and the future protection of the human environment for the twenty-first century. Some 150 world leaders were expected to attend.
Eleanor Pritchard, 9 September 2000
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