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Macedonians Seething Over Wiretap Claims

  • Deana Kjuka

Thousands of Macedonians have taken to the streets calling for the government to resign, resulting in violent clashes with police and shaking the country's political scene to its core.

At the source of the unrest is a series of apparent wiretaps released by Zoran Zaev, the head of Macedonia's main opposition Social Democrats (SDSM), on a weekly basis since February. The leaked recordings have embroiled the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, which is accused of overseeing a vast illegal surveillance program, in a scandal that includes allegations of a murder cover-up.

State-run media have scarcely reported on the wiretaps, alleged to have recorded the conversations of more than 20,000 citizens, and only a few local media stations and opposition news channels have covered the story as it has grown in recent months.

A fresh batch of sensitive recordings is expected to be released in the coming days, and will reportedly provide insight into contentious negotiations over the country's name dispute with Greece as well as a 2012 murder case that raised ethnic tensions in the country.

We take a look at some of the most stunning revelations that have emerged from the recordings, and the controversy they have caused.

'Murder Coverup'

One of the latest leaks, released on May 5, suggest that the government attempted to cover up the 2011 killing of 21-year-old Martin Neskovski, who was beaten to death by a member of a special police unit called the Tigers during a rally celebrating the ruling VMRO-DPMNE's election victory.

The leak angered the public and sparked demonstrations that attracted thousands. Participants, mostly young students, protested against police brutality and called on Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska to resign.

Riot police using tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannon dispersed antigovernment rallies that took place on May 5. Thirty-eight policemen and one civilian were injured during the protests and dozens of people have been arrested, according to the Interior Ministry.

WATCH: Protests Against Police Killing Turn Violent In Skopje

Jankulovska has said that the tapes were spliced and edited by "foreign secret services." She can be heard in the recording released on May 5 complaining about how difficult it was to "conceal the murder."

"I'm upset because when it comes to such a case -- you can’t conceal it, you have a murder, a dead person," Jankulovska is heard saying.

Antigovernment rallies also took place on May 6 and are expected to continue in the coming days. The opposition has called for a large antigovernment rally on May 17.

Tipping The Scales Of Justice

One of the first batches of recordings contains what Zaev believes is proof that the government engaged in criminal abuse of power in trying to control the courts.

Voices said to belong to Interior Minister Jankulovska and former Justice Minister Mihajlo Manevski are heard making plans about how to appease Lina Petrovska, an influential member of the Judicial Council, in order to exercise control over the judiciary.

The Judicial Council is important because it is responsible for the appointment and dismissal of judges. The purported voice of Manevski can be heard saying that "without her we can't appoint and dismiss judges."

Dragging Roma To Vote

One of the most controversial recordings seemingly reveals how the ruling party carried out electoral fraud in the 2013 local elections. The recordings show how foreign nationals were given IDs and assigned the same address. Jankulovska is purported to say: "We have 50 people in a flat of 40 square meters. But that's what it is."

The voice believed to belong to the interior minister can also be heard making a joke about the party's "little people" who have undertaken the task of rigging the elections. The joke refers to Macedonian nationals who are citizens of Albania in Pustec, in eastern Albania.

Jankulovska's voice is then heard to say that "we will drag the gypsies by their ears and take them [to vote]," prompting furious protests by the country's sizeable Roma community.

'Not A Magician'

The country's economic mismanagement and irresponsible budget spending were discussed in an alleged conversation between Finance Minister Zoran Stavreski and Interior Minister Jankulovska.

They also discussed Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's demands to spend money on buildings and statues as part of the government-funded Skopje 2014 project. The spending has been alleged to be part of a money-laundering scheme. The purported voice of Stavreski is heard describing Prime Minister Gruevski as someone who has lost touch with reality.

In the tapes, the alleged voice of Finance Minister Stavreski can be heard saying that budget revenues are in a terrible situation, and accusing the prime minister of making "megalomaniac requests." A frustrated Stavreski comes to the conclusion that "I'm not a magician."

In discussing the many requests by the prime minister pertaining to the controversial project, Stavreski adds: "We are insane! We are spending money on chocolate but we don't have bread."

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