Thousands of Macedonians call on president Ivanov to resign

Thousands of Macedonians rally to demand resignation of President Gjorge Ivanov over pardons in wire-tapping scandal

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Protesters ransack the public office of President Gjorge Ivanov in Skopje on April 13, 2016.

Thousands of Macedonian opposition supporters took to the streets for the fifth day on Saturday calling for President Gjorge Ivanov to resign and for legislative elections scheduled for June to be postponed.

"The people have come out on the streets again to send a message to President Ivanov," said Pavle Bogojevski, one of those taking part in the protest in Macedonia's capital Skopje.

"He must resign... and parliament must meet to cancel the June 5 elections," he added.

The date was officially set on Friday despite the angry anti-government rallies that have been taking place each evening in protest at Ivanov's decision to halt probes into more than 50 public figures, including top politicians embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal.

The early elections, originally agreed for April 24 and then postponed in February to June 5, are part of a EU-brokered agreement to solve the country's seething political feud.

But Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition SDSM, has insisted he will boycott the vote, claiming that conditions for a free and fair vote are not in place.

There were no reports of major incidents as Friday's protest got underway in the capital Skopje, which Zaev joined.

Macedonia's political crisis began last year when the SDSM accused then-prime minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping around 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the recordings revealed high-level corruption.

The government denied the accusations and, in response, filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempting to "destabilise" the Balkan country.

Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January in order to pave the way for early elections.

But tensions surged again Tuesday when Ivanov announced the halt of judicial investigations into 56 people, including his ally Gruevski - still Macedonia's most influential political figure.

Others affected by the decision included former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, ex-intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov, as well as Zaev and former SDSM leader and ex-president Branko Crvenkovski.

On Friday, opposition leader Zaev told the massed protesters; "It's either Gruevski or Macedonia. We are Macedonia!"

Ivanov's move has sparked condemnation abroad, with the United States and the European Union warning it raises questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and could hurt its aspirations to join the 28-member EU.