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Gypsies stranded at border
AthensNews,, July 2003

AUTHORITIES in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) last week stopped dozens of stranded Gypsies from pushing into Greece in an attempt to gain asylum.

About 100 Gypsies originally from Kosovo stormed into a no-man's-land between Greece and FYROM in what police spokeswoman Mirjana Konteska described as an "attempt to forcefully cross into Greece."

FYROM police cordoned off the area and pressed the Gypsies to turn back to their starting point near the border crossing post of Medzitlija, 210 km south of the FYROM capital, Skopje. Konteska denied reports by local media that police used clubs to push the Gypsies back or that the protesters hurled glass bottles and stones at the officers.

"There was no use of force," Konteska said. The Gypsies, also known as Roma, are part of a group of 600 refugees from Kosovo who have been stranded at the border for two months seeking eventual asylum in Greece. Living in squalor in a makeshift camp near the Medzitlija crossing, they are among tens of thousands of Gypsies who fled to FYROM and other Balkan countries after Nato's 1999 air war ended former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo. After the war, Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority accused the Gypsies of collaborating with Milosevic's Serb troops, making them feel unwelcome in the troubled province.

The group of 600 Gypsies, who contend they are unable to stay in impoverished FYROM and unwilling to return to Kosovo, launched their border protest in hopes of starting afresh in Greece.

The Athens government has refused them entry.

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