Thousands protested peacefully in the Macedonian capital for a fifth night as parliament called for snap parliamentary elections in a bid to end a deepening political crisis linked to a wiretapping scandal.
Protesters have been demanding the resignation of President Gjorge Ivanov after he halted criminal proceedings against dozens of politicians, including former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
Opposition parties have accused Gruevski and his government of being behind a massive scandal in which some 20,000 people were illegally wiretapped, including politicians, judges, police, journalists, and diplomats.
This week, Ivanov granted amnesty to 56 officials alleged to be involved in the scandal, a decision that sparked sometimes violent protests in Skopje. Six police were wounded and one demonstrator detained in demonstrations on April 14.
Gruevski, who stepped down in January, has strenuously denied the claims and has instead accused opposition leader Zoran Zaev of plotting a coup.
Thousands of people waving white flags and banners streamed through Skopje's streets in the evening on April 15, chanting, whistling, clapping, and blowing horns. Some handed out flowers to riot police who watched the crowds behind shields.
During a live televised address to the nation earlier this week, Ivanov said he issued the pardons to protect national interests and said he wouldn’t change his decision.
Under pressure from the European Union, which Macedonia is aspiring to join, lawmakers struck a deal last year to hold early elections and parliament speaker Trajko Veljanovski announced on April 15 the vote would be held on June 5.
The largest opposition group, however, has said it will boycott the vote, and Zaev increased his rhetoric, vowing to "intensify" the protests and accusing Gruevski of "preparing another election theft."
"This is a coup, the constitution has been violated," he told reporters on April 15.
Macedonia's main ruling party, meanwhile, said in a statement the same day that it and three other main parties appealed to Ivanov to review his amnesty decision.
Europe and the United States sharply criticized the pardon, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn publicly questioned whether credible elections were still possible.
With reporting by AP and Reuters