Macedonians riot over proposed budget

Government and opposition deputies brawled inside Macedonia's parliament and their supporters hurled stones and bottles at each other outside on Monday in an escalating dispute over the proposed 2013 state budget.

Thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators clashed in the centre of the capital Skopje outside parliament. Special police in riot gear intervened to separate the two groups, and local media said at least six people were hurt.

Inside parliament, security guards had to evacuate parliament speaker Trajko Veljanovski from the plenary hall as opposition deputies scuffled with pro-government counterparts in an an effort to prevent the opening of the debate.

Opposition deputies left the building to join supporters in the streets and the government then pushed through a 64-4 vote in favour of the budget proposal. Parliament has 120 members.

Last month the small Balkan republic's centre-right government proposed a 148-billion-denari ($US3.2 billion) budget for 2013 with the deficit projected at 3.5 percent of gross domestic product and growth at two percent of GDP.

The left-wing opposition faulted the proposal as profligate at a time of economic downturn and asked for a cut equivalent to about $US260 million. The government refused but the opposition then submitted about a thousand amendments to the draft.

Opposition leaders had accused the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of suspending democracy by seeking to vote on the budget in a plenary session before their proposed amendments were addressed in committees.

"If the government continues like that, it will suspend the constitution and ... kill democracy in Macedonia before our very eyes," Branko Crvenkovski, head of the opposition Social Democrats, said before the vote.

Gruevski shot back: "This is all about the vanity of one man, of (Branko) Crvenkovski and his political survival."

Macedonia's economy resurfaced from two quarters of recession in the third quarter of 2012, posting 0.3 percent GDP growth. The central bank has cut its 2012 growth forecast to zero from 2.4 percent, reflecting the negative effect of the euro zone crisis across the Western Balkans, but sees growth perking up to 2.6 percent in 2013.

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