Gunfire, explosions in Macedonia as police battle ‘armed group’

KUMANOVO, Macedonia (Reuters) – Five police officers died and dozens were wounded in a daylong gun battle in an ethnic Albanian suburb of northern Macedonia on Saturday, adding the threat of armed conflict to a deep political crisis rocking the ex-Yugoslav republic.

The Balkan country’s interior ministry said an unspecified number of gunmen were also killed, but that it had no information on civilian casualties during clashes that began before dawn and stretched into the evening.

Police said that acting on information about an “armed group” they had launched an operation in an ethnic Albanian district of the northern town of Kumanovo 40 km (25 miles) north of the capital Skopje. The region saw heavy fighting during an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001.

Units of special police in armored vehicles locked down the neighborhood and helicopters circled overhead. A Reuters photographer reported hearing heavy automatic gunfire and loud explosions. Black smoke rose over the town and residents were seen leaving the area carrying belongings.

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