Macedonian PM defiant ahead of major rally

2015-05-16 22:33
Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addresses the lawmakers. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski addresses the lawmakers. (Boris Grdanoski, AP)

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Skopje - Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski insisted on Saturday that he would not step down, on the eve of a major anti-government rally calling for his resignation.

The tiny ex-Yugoslav republic has been rocked by a months-long political crisis, deepened by a huge wire-tapping scandal and an eruption of deadly violence last weekend.

In the Balkan nation's worst unrest in 14 years, a shootout in the northern town of Kumanovo between police and ethnic Albanian rebels left 18 people dead, including eight police officers.

"I have no intention neither to resign nor to accept a transitional government," Gruevski told the private pro-government Sitel television channel.

Conservative Gruevski has been premier since 2006, but the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) has boycotted parliament since his re-election in April 2014, claiming he committed fraud.

Political tensions have risen further since February, when SDSM leader Zoran Zaev accused the government of tapping the phones of 20 000 people, including politicians and journalists.

Suspicious timing

Zaev has over recent months released snippets of the alleged recordings that appear to show widespread government corruption, a murder cover-up and other wrongdoing.

Thousands are expected to turn out in the capital Skopje on Sunday to demand the cabinet step down.

But the prime minister, whose VMRO-DPMNE party is due to hold its own protest on Monday, stood firm in his latest interview.

"There must be a solution for the political crisis and it has to be in accordance with the will of the citizens of Macedonia expressed at the latest elections," he said.

"There must be no solution through violence, as someone may have planned, and a solution will be found."

Thirty alleged gunmen, including 18 ethnic Albanians from neighbouring Kosovo, have been charged with terror offences following last weekend's shootout - Macedonia's worst unrest since an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001.

Authorities initially said 22 had died, but later gave the total as 18.

But the opposition and analysts suggested the timing of the unrest was suspicious, given the huge pressure facing Gruevski's government.

The government denies making the phone recordings released by Zaev, but not that the voices are authentic - although it says some are heavily edited or out of context.

Gruevski accuses Zaev of spying on behalf of a foreign country, and claimed in his interview that the "scenario" of ousting the government had been created by "someone outside" Macedonia.

"It would be a coward's act to withdraw. I will face the attack against us," he said.

Read more on:    macedonia

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