More than 400,000 of Macedonia's 2 million people are ethnic Albanians. They argue that their numbers and distinctive identity entitles them to special constitutional status.
Their demands include proportional representation for ethnic Albanians in state institutions, more state-funded Albanian-language media and local government that would enable ethnic Albanian communities to run their own affairs.
They established an unofficial university in Tetovo last December, raising fears among Macedonia's Slavic majority that the Albanians were intent on eliminating Slavic influences from western Macedonia.
Albanians make up about 70 per cent of Tetovo, but the town is also home to radical Slav Macedonian activists, many of whom have political connections to Serbia.
The government of Albania, which supports the demands of Macedonia's ethnic Albanians for a university, condemned the shooting as "a criminal act of violence which does not serve the all too delicate peace and stability in the region".
However, the Macedonian authorities ignored the Albanian protest and charged the rector of the illegal university, Fadil Sulejmani, with "inciting the people to resistance". Despite the violence, Macedonia remains the only one of the six republics of former Yugoslavia to have avoided armed conflict since the country disintegrated in 1991. However, Macedonia has failed to normalise relations fully with any of its neighbours - Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia.
Neither Greece nor Bulgaria recognises Slav Macedonians as a distinct nationality, while Serbian nationalists tend to regard Macedonia as a region of southern Serbia, so international status remains uncertain