SKOPJE (Reuters) - Police in Macedonia have found the bodies of five people who were shot dead near a lake just outside the capital Skopje, the authorities said on Friday, a grisly discovery that risks fuelling tensions in the ethnically volatile country.
Authorities deployed riot police and the interior minister called for calm as hundreds of residents of the nearby village of Radisani, home to some of the victims, gathered to demand a quick investigation and attacked cars and television crews.
Local TV stations said the victims were Macedonians and ran pictures of some of them, although police said they had yet to identify the victims or the perpetrators.
Only last month, several people were injured and dozens were arrested in a string of tit-for-tat attacks between youths from Macedonia’s Slavic-speaking majority and ethnic Albanian minority.
The timing of the killings - on the eve of Orthodox Good Friday and just two days ahead of Easter - could trigger further unrest in the former Yugoslav republic of 2 million people.
“We appeal to all citizens and media to restrain from speculations or activities that could stoke ethnic tensions,” Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska told reporters.
At least a quarter of Macedonia’s population is ethnic Albanian, living mainly in the north and west.
Four of the victims were in their late teens and 20s, the ministry said, while the fifth victim was a 40-year-old man. A fisherman found the bodies on the shore of a lake near the village of Smiljkovci, just outside Skopje, late on Thursday.
“On the scene we uncovered bullet casings, trails of blood and all the bodies had visible gunshot wounds,” it said in a statement.
In 2001, fighting broke out between government security forces and ethnic Albanian fighters until Western diplomacy pulled them back from the brink of civil war.
A decade on, tensions persist, fuelled by poverty and the slow pace of integration with the European Union and NATO.
Editing by Aleksandar Vasovic and Alison Williams