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Thirty charged with terrorism in Macedonia

Residents in the northern Macedonian town of Kumanovo have begun to return home following a weekend of violence in which 22 people were killed. Thirty gunmen have been arrested on terrorism-related charges.

As the suspects appeared before an investigating magistrate in the capital, Skopje, on Monday, authorities in Kumanovo began demining and clearing explosion debris in the ethnic Albanian town. Several houses were destroyed after a violent two-day battle broke out between special units and alleged ethnic Albanian militants.

"The suspects have been accused of terrorism, jeopardizing constitutional order and security," the prosecutor's office said Monday, adding that some were also charged with "illegal possession of arms and explosives."

Eighteen of the 30 alleged gunmen are reportedly Kosovars.

"Out of 30 people charged 18 are Kosovans, 11 are Macedonian citizens, two of whom are living in Kosovo, and one is from Albania with residence in Germany," the prosecutor said in a statement.

AFP news agency reported on Monday that Kosovo's president, Atifete Jahjaga, and Prime Minister Isa Mustafa had expressed "their deep concern... and condemn any involvement of the citizens of the Republic of Kosovo in the incident in the Republic of Macedonia."

Among the 22 killed in the violence were

14 gunmen and eight police officers

. Another 37 people were reportedly injured.

Strained relations

As Macedonia faces its

deepest political crisis

since independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, the eruption of violence over the weekend has raised tensions throughout the landlocked region.

Renewed conflict between ethnic groups was diffused by NATO in 2001 with an agreement providing more rights to the Albanian minority community. Relations between ethnic Macedonians and Albanians remain strained, however.

Street protests

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski told reporters on Sunday that the latest unrest was the work of terrorists who had infiltrated Macedonia with the intention of killing thousands and destabilizing the country.

Amid an escalating political crisis over corruption and illegal wiretapping, Gruevski's opposition has also been holding street protests and publishing a series of audio-recordings incriminating top officials. The anti-government movement, led by opposition politician Zoran Zaev, has set a large rally for May 17.

ksb/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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