North Macedonia: Protest in Tetovo for deadly hospital fire

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SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — Hundreds of protesters in the North Macedonian city of Tetovo on Friday called for the resignation of officials in the wake of last week’s fire that destroyed a COVID-19 field hospital, killed 14 people and injured a dozen more.

The protest was organized by victims’ families, with demonstrators demanding that authorities disclose the findings of an investigation into the blaze. Chanting “justice, justice”, the protesters stopped briefly in front of the local government building, throwing eggs and demanding the resignation of Tetovo’s mayor, Teuta Arifi.

Scuffles between police and protesters broke out in front of the headquarters of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration, a junior partner in the leftist governing coalition. Tetovo police spokesman Marijan Josifoski said four police officers were slightly injured, and at least two protesters were arrested.

Nine days after the hospital fire, no information has been released from an investigation into its causes. The blaze is believed to have been accidental, but it was unclear how it started. Witnesses and officials have said an explosion preceded the fire.

The flames spread rapidly through the temporary facility, which had been built amid a surge in coronavirus cases, destroying it within minutes. Twelve patients and two visiting relatives died in the blaze, and another 12 people were injured.

Health Minister Venko Filipce offered his resignation two days after the fire, as did his deputy minister and two senior hospital administrators. But Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he would make a final decision on the submitted resignations based “exclusively on facts” from the investigation.

North Macedonia accepted an offer from other NATO allies to send fire experts while a team from Germany’s Federal Criminal Police Office was participating in the investigation.

Medical staff and witnesses have also been questioned, and prosecutors ordered the confiscation of all documentation on the construction of the facility to check for potential omissions.

Nineteen field hospitals, funded by a World Bank loan, were set up across North Macedonia over the past year to tackle surging coronavirus hospitalizations and a shortage of hospital beds. Health authorities say all 19 were constructed according to the specifications and standards laid out by the World Bank as a condition for the loan.

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