Macedonia protests: Thousands rally for PM Gruevski

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Monday's rally in Skopje, 18 MayImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Monday's protesters shouted "Macedonia! Macedonia!" and "Nikola! Nikola!"

Tens of thousands of Macedonians have staged a rally in support of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, a day after similar numbers had demonstrated against his government.

Monday's rally was being held outside parliament in the capital, Skopje.

Mr Gruevski, who was at the rally to address the crowd, faces wire-tapping and corruption allegations but denies wrongdoing and has refused to resign.

An anti-Gruevski protest camp has been set up outside government offices.

The camp, which still holds hundreds of protesters who say they will remain until Mr Gruevski quits, is about 2km (1.5 miles) from Monday's pro-government rally.

'Dark foreign scenario'

Descending on the mass rally, supporters of the prime minister waved red and yellow flags and chanted "Macedonia! Macedonia!" and "Nikola! Nikola!"

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (right) attends Monday's rally in Skopje
Image source, AP
Image caption,
Tens of thousands rallied against the government on Sunday

One demonstrator who gave her name as Snezana told Reuters: "We're here to defend our country. It's time we stand up against this dark foreign scenario."

The opposition Social Democrats accuse the government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

Their leader Zoran Zaev says 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.

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Opposition leader Zoran Zaev says the prime minister is trying "to save his skin"

But Mr Gruevski, who has won successive elections since 2006, has repeatedly rejected the allegations.

He has accused Mr Zaev of orchestrating a coup at the behest of unnamed foreign spy agencies who, he says, want to overthrow his conservative government.

Adding to the political instability, last weekend eight police officers and 14 ethnic Albanian fighters were killed in clashes in the city of Kumanovo.

In 2001, Macedonia was on the brink of civil war when armed rebels demanded greater rights for the Albanian minority, which makes up about a quarter of Macedonia's 2.1 million population.