Ethnic Albanian rally in Macedonia turns violent

Ethnic Albanian demonstrators burned the Macedonian flag and threw stones at police in clashes that injured at least 10 people Saturday, officials said, as tensions rose after an Albanian ex-guerrilla leader was named Macedonia's defence minister.

"Several people were arrested today... after a violent protest of young members of the Albanian community in Skopje," the Macedonian capital, interior ministry spokesman Ivo Kotevski told reporters.

He said at least 10 people including two policemen had been injured in violence that broke out when police used tear gas to disperse several hundred demonstrators who had gathered to voice support for new Defence Minister Talmut Xhaferi, a former head of Albanian guerillas who fought government forces in 2001.

Saturday's rally was a response to a protest by Macedonians held on Friday opposing Xhaferi's appointment. That demonstration also ended in violence.

Xhaferi was named defence minister 11 days ago.

The ethnic Albanian demonstrators burned the Macedonian flag in front of the government seat and threw stones at police.

Several cars were damaged, shop windows broken and a bus set on fire, Kotevski said.

Relations between the two communities in this former Yugoslav republic have improved but are still marred by occasional tensions since a seven-month conflict in 2001 between regime forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

A peace deal signed in August 2001 gave greater rights to ethnic Albanians, who make up some 25 percent of Macedonia's population of two million.