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Macedonia PM Rallies Supporters After Wiretap Scandal

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski held a rally to reject allegations of election fraud and other crimes allegedly proved by a series of wiretapped conversations released by the opposition.

Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski | Photo by: Goran Rizaov

Speaking in front of thousands of supporters of his main ruling centre-right VMRO DPMNE party in Skopje on Sunday, the embattled Gruevski repeated his claims that criminal allegations made against him by the country’s opposition have been “created” by unnamed foreign intelligence services and their domestic collaborators in order to destabilize Macedonia.

“Macedonia is much stronger than all the scenarios and agendas from abroad. They will not break Macedonia. Not in our time, not until the last of us draws breath,” Gruevski told a packed hall at the televised rally attended by all his key government ministers and party officials.

“This is Macedonia and we are not afraid. Our deeds are our struggle for Macedonia. This is my word, from Nikola Gruevski, who you know very well,” Gruevski insisted.

The rally comes after the opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, accused Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, of orchestrating the illegal surveillance of more than 20,000 people, including his own ministers.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev in February started publishing what he said were wiretapped conversations between government ministers and other senior officials, which allegedly point to their direct involvement in various criminal activities. He alleges that the government has been involved in electoral fraud and other crimes, framing political opponents, and interfering in the media and the judiciary.

Zaev called on Gruevski to resign so that an interim government can be formed with a mandate to hold new elections and ensure the complete separation of political parties from the courts, police and other key institutions.

But Gruevski has denied allegations of wrongdoing, maintaining that the tapes were doctored and that the opposition illegally obtained its material from unnamed foreign secret services. He has refused to comment on the content of the tapes.

“We do not need a interim government that will push through some solutions by force,” he told Sunday’s rally.

Gruevski opted againt interim government | Photo by: Goran Rizaov

He insisted that only his government had won public trust in elections and was legitimate, also suggesting that an interim government might succumb to pressure to change the country’s name, which is contested by Greece.

He reiterated that a solution for the current crisis could be sought only in domestic courts, which should determine the truth about the wiretap scandal.

“This person Zoran Zaev is obviously directly involved in activities which have the purpose of destabilizing the country. He works for agendas that he does not even understand,” Gruevski said.

However he said that he would allow EU foreign political mediation and monitoring of the Macedonian judiciary, as long as domestic judges still have the last say.

In expectation of the announced release of the wiretapped material, Gruevski last month accused Zaev of making threats against him in order to seize power. Zaev and several others were charged with espionage and threats against top state officials.

“There will be no early elections but there will be a serious response [to their allegations] because they deserve that,” Gruevski said on Sunday.

“He [Zaev] says that there is no freedom and democracy. Is there another example of a country in the world where a man like this can freely create and publish such materials?” he added.

He denied allegations that media freedom was restricted.

“Exactly 22 media outlets in the country are saying that there is no democracy in Macedonia. Isn’t that indicative?” he asked.

The crisis in Macedonia has sound alarm bells in Europe.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn this week told Macedonia to properly investigate any allegations of wrongdoing related to the wiretapped conversations.

“Irrespective of the origins of the wiretapping… any potential wrongdoing revealed with their disturbing content must be investigated and appropriate consequences must be taken, especially if it infringes fundamentally on the rule of law and on the separation of powers,” Hahn said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile told Gruevski on Wednesday in Brussels that Macedonia’s progress depended on “effective democratic dialogue, widespread confidence in the rule of law and freedom of media”.

Photo by: Goran Rizaov

Photo by: Goran Rizaov