SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — More than 1,000 ethnic Albanians marched in the capital of Macedonia on Sunday to mark the 100th anniversary of Albania's independence from the Ottoman Empire. Some politicians have opposed such celebrations, saying they could stoke ethnic tensions in Macedonia.
The prime ministers of neighboring Albania and Kosovo, Sali Berisha and Hashim Thaci, were expected to attend the celebrations later Sunday at Skopje's sports center.
The anniversary celebrations in Macedonia's capital are scheduled to last for four days, and similar festivities will take place later this week in the capitals of Kosovo and Albania.
Ethnic Albanians make up about 25 percent of Macedonia's population of 2.1 million, but tension with the country's Slavic-speaking Macedonian majority has remained high since a six-month armed ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001 to demand greater autonomy in minority areas.
For nearly five centuries, Albania was at the heart of a sprawling Ottoman Empire, but it declared independence in 1912, and is now a parliamentary democracy and member of the United Nations and NATO.
In Skopje, Macedonia's capital, thousands of Albanian national flags — a black double-headed eagle on a red background — were on display Sunday there and in minority areas of northern and western Macedonia. Divers even placed the flag at the bottom of Lake Ohrid, which straddles Macedonia and Albania.
"This is really an exaggeration" auto-mechanic Jovan Krstevski, 49, of Skopje told The Associated Press, as ethnic Albanians marched there. "I have nothing against any flag or celebrations, but placing such huge flags in such a manner and with such noise is nothing but dramatizing the event and has nothing to do with a tribute. Just the opposite, only to demonstrate the (minority's) power and to provoke their fellow Macedonians."
The opposition Social Democrats earlier described a decision by the Macedonian government to join Albania's independence celebrations as a "political provocation."
Conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has the country's largest ethnic Albanian party, the DUI, in his coalition government. The DUI is led by Ali Ahmeti.