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Macedonian Opposition Sets Conditions For Talks On Settling Crisis

  • RFE/RL

Macedonia's opposition said it will not join talks on resolving the country's political crisis until the government postpones elections and withdraws a controversial amnesty for politicians suspected of corruption.

Zoran Zaev, leader of the main Social Democrats (SDSM) opposition party, said on April 20 that President Gjorge Ivanov "has to withdraw the shameful decision on amnesty" for dozens of public figures embroiled in a wiretapping scandal that he announced on April 12 because it violates the constitution.

And "the parliament has to annul the June 5 date for elections," postponing the ballot "until conditions for a democratic, fair, and credible vote are met," he added.

"Otherwise, the SDSM will not participate at the meeting in Vienna" on April 22 that the European Union had offered to host in a bid to resolve the Balkan nation's political standoff, he said.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE conservative party has already accepted the EU's invitation to join negotiations.

After Macedonia last week announced snap elections for June 5, the opposition said it would boycott the vote on grounds that it did not provide enough time to ensure free and fair polling -- a contention backed by the EU and the United States.

The VMRO-DPMNE party has refused to accede to demands to further postpone the elections, however, which were originally set for April 24.

Parliamentary Speaker Trako Veljanosli said on April 20 that it is legally impossible to reconvene the now-dissolved legislature to change the election date.

Zaev charged the ruling party with "burying" an agreement brokered by the EU last year which was aimed at resolving the Balkan country's two-year political crisis.

In particular, Ivanov's amnesty move reneged on a pledge by the government to abide by a special prosecutor investigation into allegations of corruption in a wiretapping scandal which was a key part of the 2015 agreement.

Ivanov's decision touched off a series of street protests featuring young people calling for his resignation. The protests continued on April 20, with thousands of people taking to the streets of Skopje and other Macedonian towns once again to show their support for the opposition.

More protests are planned for April 21, when the ruling party's supporters are also expected to rally on the capital's streets.

Brussels and Washington have also condemned Ivanov's decision to end the wiretapping probe. Observers said it raised questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and damaged the country's ambitions to draw closer to the EU.

The former Yugoslav republic has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but has yet to open accession talks. It has also been a candidate to join NATO since 2009.

With reporting by AFP and dpa