Thousands march through the capital Skopje to express anger at what they say is government bartering of national identity and heritage in exchange for EU membership.

Police confront protesters at the parliament building in Skopje, North Macedonia, late Tuesday, July 5, 2022.
Police confront protesters at the parliament building in Skopje, North Macedonia, late Tuesday, July 5, 2022. (AP)

Thousands have marched through North Macedonia's capital for a fifth consecutive night protesting a proposal aiming to break a deadlock in the country's efforts to join the European Union.

Limited violence broke out when a group of people threw stones, chairs and bottles at the protesters, while a 40-year-old man was detained after firing a gun in the air as protesters marched to the Foreign Ministry, police said on Wednesday. 

No injuries were reported. Police said they found bullet casings at the scene.

Opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski and the governing social democrat party SDSM, hastily convened news conferences and accused each other of creating such incidents for political gain.

Mickoski, who participated in the march, posted a photo on his Facebook account showing a man pointing a gun and claimed the gunman had intended to kill him.

Earlier, police said that violence after Tuesday night's protest injured 47 police officers, two of them seriously. A group of mostly young people threw stones, metal bars, eggs and petrol bombs at the parliament building.

Police said 11 protesters were detained in Tuesday night's incidents. Prime Minister Dimitar Kovacevski condemned the attacks on the police, saying violence cannot be justified.

READ MORE: Macedonians protest French proposal over heritage dispute with Bulgaria

French proposal and Bulgaria's position

Thousands of people have protested nightly since the weekend over a French proposal for a compromise aimed at lifting objections by neighbouring Bulgaria to North Macedonia joining the European Union.

Bulgaria, which as an EU member has veto powers over new members, wants North Macedonia to formally recognise its language has Bulgarian roots, to recognise a Bulgarian minority in the country and to quash "hate speech" against Bulgaria. 

Many in North Macedonia say acquiescing would undermine their national identity.

North Macedonia's President Stevo Pendarovski and the government back the proposed French deal, which calls for the country to acknowledge in its constitution the existence of an ethnic Bulgarian minority. 

Bulgaria has already formally accepted the French proposal, which now requires the backing of North Macedonia's parliament. Lawmakers are scheduled to convene on Thursday to set up a committee that will look into the issue. No plenary session has yet been scheduled.

North Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership for 17 years. The country received a green light in 2020 to begin accession talks, but no date for the start of the negotiations has been set.

READ MORE: Bulgaria parliament okays move to unlock North Macedonia EU talks

Source: AP