Google News Jan 31 2012
An Orthodox Christian church famed for its valuable icons was set alight in southern Macedonia overnight amid religious tension between Christians and minority Muslims over a carnival in which Orthodox Christian men dressed as women in burkas and mocked the Koran.
Firefighters extinguished the fire on Monday night in the two century-old Sveti Nikola church, near the town of Struga. The church’s roof was destroyed but its icons were not damaged, the fire service said.
Hours before the fire, Muslim leaders had appealed for calm among community members.
The January 13 Vevcani festival prompted angry, sometimes violent demonstrations by Muslims, who are nearly all ethnic Albanian and make up 33% of the country’s 2.1 million population and accuse the majority of stoking hatred against them.
Ethnic tension has been simmering in this small Balkan country since the end of an armed rebellion in 2001, when ethnic Albanian rebels fought government forces for about eight months, seeking greater rights for their community. The conflict left 80 people dead, and ended with the intervention of Nato peacekeepers.