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North Macedonia's Ex-PM Gruevski Sentenced To Prison

North Macedonia's former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (file photo)

A court in North Macedonia has sentenced former conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski to 1 1/2 years in prison, and handed suspended sentences to six other party members and supporters for orchestrating violence in 2013.

Gruevski was sentenced on September 29 in absentia. North Macedonia authorities are still seeking his extradition from Hungary, where he was granted political asylum after fleeing there in 2018 to avoid a separate two-year prison sentence for corruption.

The trial, which started in 2016, dealt with a protest in 2013 outside a municipal building in the capital, Skopje, when participants forcibly entered the premises and prevented opposition board members of the municipality from blocking a plan by then-premier Gruevski to remodel the capital's center.

Much of Gruevski's architectural intervention, which cost an estimated 600 million euros ($703 million), went ahead.

The court on September 29 found Gruevski guilty of having organized and encouraged the protest. The six others who received suspended sentences include Gruevski's former transport minister. Both the defense and the prosecution said they will appeal the sentence.

Four other cases are pending against Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006-2016, on charges of corruption, election irregularities, and abuse of office.

All charges against Gruevski originate from a wiretapping scandal that broke in 2015, when it was revealed that the phone conversations of more than 20,000 people, including politicians, judges, police, journalists, and foreign diplomats were illegally recorded.

The crisis led to an early election in 2016 in which Gruevski lost to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev.

Gruevski, who served as prime minister from 2006 to 2016, fled to Budapest in November 2018 after being convicted on corruption charges in Macedonia and sentenced to two years in prison.

He was convicted in May 2018 of using a 600,000 euro ($703,000) Mercedes bought with state funds for personal travel.

Budapest granted Gruevski asylum from what it called "political persecution" in Macedonia.

Gruevski, who has close ties with Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said he chose Hungary because it is a member of NATO and the European Union and a country with "independent institutions."

North Macedonia has issued an international warrant for his arrest.

With reporting by AP