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EU Offers To Host Talks To End Macedonian Political Crisis

Protests continued on April 18 against Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov's pardon of officials accused in a wiretapping scandal.
Protests continued on April 18 against Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov's pardon of officials accused in a wiretapping scandal.

The European Union has invited Macedonian leaders to talks on April 22 with the goal of ending a political crisis in the small Balkan country.

European Commission spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic suggested leaders from Macedonia's squabbling political parties meet in Vienna with European commissioner Johannes Hahn.

"The aim of the meeting will be to discuss ways to solve the crisis, and to ensure that leaders will continue with the implementation of the Przino agreement," Kocijancic told AFP on April 18, referring to an accord among Macedonian leaders brokered by the EU last year.

The meeting with Hahn, who is in charge of EU enlargement, would also discuss "reform priorities," she said.

In Skopje, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE conservative party said it would accept the invitation.

The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, said a decision on whether to attend would be made "in the coming days."

The country has been politically gridlocked for two years, but the crisis intensified on April 12 when President Gjorge Ivanov halted a probe into dozens of public figures suspected of involvement in corruption and a wiretapping scandal.

The move triggered street protests against Ivanov and the ruling party's leader, Nikola Gruevski. The demonstrations entered a second week on April 18, drawing several thousand, mostly young people who demanded Ivanov's resignation.

The protesters moved through Skopje streets chanting "No justice, no peace!" and threw paint at the Culture Ministry building. Protests were held also in five other cities, including the second-largest city of Bitola.

Macedonia announced snap elections on June 5, but the opposition vowed to boycott the vote on grounds that the conditions for free and fair polls had not been met -- a contention backed by the EU and the United States.

Macedonia has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but has yet to open accession talks.

With reporting by AFP and AP
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