Europe

Macedonia corruption: Fourth night of protests as snap election called

Protesters walk and shout the slogans during the protest against Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov"s decision on wiretapping amnesty, in Skopje Image copyright EPA
Image caption Protesters convened in Macedonia Square in central Skopje to call on the president to resign

Anti-government protesters in Macedonia have taken to the streets for a fourth night following a presidential pardon for 56 politicians embroiled in a corruption scandal.

President Gjorge Ivanov said he stood by the pardons, which annulled judicial investigations into the politicians.

Mr Ivanov was speaking hours after parliament was dissolved and early elections called for 5 June.

But the main opposition party, SDSM, said it would boycott the elections.

Last year, the party accused former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists.

Mr Gruevski is one of the 56 people who have had judicial investigations into their conduct cancelled.

Others include former Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and former intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov as well as the leader of the main opposition party SDSM, Zoran Zaev, and former SDSM president Branko Crvenkovski.

However, both the SDSM and Mr Ivanov's own VMRO-DPMNE party have said they want the investigations to go ahead.

Mr Zaev has been releasing a steady stream of recordings since February 2015, saying scores of leaked recordings reveal corruption at the highest levels of government, including the mismanagement of funds, dubious criminal prosecutions of opponents and even cover-ups of killings.

President unrepentant

Protesters convened in Macedonia square in the capital Skopje on Friday evening.

On previous nights demonstrators had ransacked presidential offices but protests were more peaceful on Thursday and Friday.

They demanded the resignation of President Ivanov and the postponement of the elections.

Image copyright AP
Image caption President Gjorge Ivanov's amnesty for politicians in a wiretapping probe has led to protests

Parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski had confirmed the elections earlier on Friday.

President Ivanov said the ballot would be a "new chapter for Macedonia".

But Zoran Zaev said his party would not take part.

"Everyone knows that there are no conditions for fair, democratic and free elections," he said in a news conference on Friday.

EU President Donald Tusk warned that Macedonia must be "guided by the rule of law".

"The country's Euro-Atlantic future is at risk," he said in a tweet on Friday.

Russia has backed Mr Ivanov and accused the opposition of "stirring political conflict".

Image copyright AP
Image caption On Wednesday the president's offices were ransacked
Image copyright AP
Image caption Furniture from the president's office was burned in the street

Mr Ivanov was unrepentant, telling the nation that anyone who wanted their pardon annulled could ask him.

"Anyone who thinks that a right has been taken from him or that I have done him a bad favour, or wants to prove his innocence in court, I call on him personally, in a written form, to submit a request to annul the decision regarding him," he said.

Macedonia's political crisis began when the SDSM accused Mr Guevski of wiretapping and corruption. Mr Gruevski then accused the SDSM of spying.

Mr Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January to pave the way for early elections, which were initially scheduled for February before being postponed until June.

The pardons have been condemned internationally, with the US and EU warning that they raised questions about rule of law in Macedonia and could undermine the country's aim of joining the EU.

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