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Macedonia's Zaev Pleads Not Guilty As Graft Trial Opens

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev speaks to the press in front of the Skopje court on March 6.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has pleaded not guilty as his trial on a bribe-taking charge got under way.

Zaev told Skopje's criminal court on March 6 that the accusation aimed at preventing his political activity while he was in the opposition.

Prosecutors charge Zaev with demanding a bribe of more than 160,000 euros ($198,000) from a local businessman in 2013 to allow the privatization of land in the southeastern town of Strumica.

At the time, he was serving as mayor of Strumica. Zaev became prime minister last year.

The case erupted in 2015 when a video emerged allegedly showing Zaev demanding the bribe from businessman Ivan Nikolov.

Zaev's lawyer, Filip Medarski, said that the meeting between his client and Nikolov took place when "privatization of land was completely over."

Zaev said he had asked the businessman to make a donation for construction of a church.

The next hearing is scheduled for March 19.

The trial had been scheduled to start in early 2016, but was repeatedly adjourned.

With reporting by AFP