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Demonstrations Continue In Macedonia After Presidential ‘Pardon' In Wiretapping Scandal

  • RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Protesters in Macedonia, angry about President Gjorge Ivanov's decision to halt prosecutions of officials linked to a wiretapping scandal, have broken into one of the president's offices.

The demonstrators on April 13 broke windows of the street-level office in central Skopje that is occasionally used by Ivanov, storming into the building and ransacking rooms inside.

Demonstrators also broke windows and clashed with police at the nearby Ministry of Justice, while another group of protesters clashed with police at blockades that were erected around the parliament building.

Thousands of demonstrators were on the streets for a second night on April 13. Some threw eggs and stones at government buildings while others set off flares before police used batons to disperse the crowd.

Ivanov has faced harsh criticism at home and abroad for his decision to halt all criminal proceedings against politicians and government officials suspected of involvement in a wiretapping scandal involving thousands of people.

The crowds of demonstrators on April 13 were larger than the night before, when hundreds of outraged Macedonians gathered at the presidential office and pelted the building with eggs after Ivanov announced the decision in a nationwide television address.

Later on April 12, scuffles broke out when a larger crowd tried to march on the headquarters of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party but were stopped by police.

Ivanov said he was ending all judicial proceedings against top politicians allegedly involved in a wiretapping scandal in the country last year "in order to put an end to this political crisis, which will end with democratic elections."

But Ivanov's move seems to have put the June 5 parliamentary elections in jeopardy.

WATCH: Protesters throw eggs at the office of President Ivanov on April 12, soon after he pardoned politicians and others implicated in a vast wiretapping operation:

The European Union's foreign-policy arm said the halting of criminal proceedings against politicians involved in the scandal raised "serious concerns."

"We call on all sides to avoid interventions that risk undermining years of efforts within the country and with the support of the international community to strengthen the rule of law," it said.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn told RFE/RL on April 12 that Ivanov's announcement "is something which, in my understanding, is not acceptable" and not in line with the rule of law.

He said he had "serious doubts" that "credible elections [on June 5] are still possible."

The U.S. Embassy in Macedonia said in a statement that Ivanov's move "raises serious concerns about Macedonia's commitment to the rule of law."
U.S. Ambassador Jess Baily said in a tweet on April 12 that the special prosecutor working on the case and the Macedonian courts should be allowed to "do their jobs."

Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev called on Ivanov to resign, saying his decision to halt all criminal investigations into the wiretapping scandal amounted to a coup.

Zaev also said he would call for public protests against Ivanov's decision.

Even the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party seemed surprised by Ivanov's move. "We have no doubt in his honest and good intentions," it said in a statement. "But we want to express our huge disagreement with his move."

Last year, Zaev's Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) accused then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of being behind the wiretapping of around 20,000 people, including many politicians, journalists, and others in powerful positions.

Gruevski denied the charges and accused Zaev of "spying" on the government and attempting to "destabilize" the country.

Zaev was later charged with attempting to overthrow the government, but is also part of the "pardon" from prosecution issued by Ivanov.

Gruevski is a political ally of the president.

Former Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and former intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov are the other major politicians affected by Ivanov's action.

The scandal caused by the alleged wiretapping triggered protests on the streets of Skopje -- against Gruevski and counterdemonstrations in support of him -- that led to the EU stepping in and mediating the dispute.

Macedonia's four major political parties eventually agreed to resolve the crisis by holding early elections, which were first scheduled for April 24 but later postponed after Zaev complained that the vote would not be free or fair.

According to the constitution, parliament speaker Trajko Veljanovski has until April 15 to rule whether or not to hold the elections on June 5 or to again postpone them.

Zaev's Social Democrats want no elections to be held until a new media law -- which has been stalled in parliament for months -- is passed that establishes equal treatment of the media, which Zaev says is currently controlled by pro-government press outlets.

The opposition is also demanding that the country's electoral lists -- which are purported to be out of date and allow for vote rigging by the government -- be reviewed and cleaned up ahead of any new elections.