By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia's opposition leader accused the government on Wednesday of illegally wire-tapping around 100 journalists to cement control over the media, the latest revelation in a scandal that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski blamed on foreign spies.
Opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, charged last month by police with plotting to bring down the government, played to a packed press conference audio tapes that he said demonstrated the extent of government influence over the media. A voice he identified as Gruevski's was among them.
It was the fourth batch of what Zaev says are tapes made under a massive wire-tapping operation under Gruevski. The operation, Zaev argues, how autocratic Gruevski's rule has become since it began in mid-2006.
Gruevski immediately called his own press conference and said Zaev was being used by a foreign intelligence service which was itself behind the wire-taps.
"This isn't about Zoran Zaev," he said. "He's just an instrument, a kamikaze. The game is big, too big for him," said Gruevski. "I am not a man who functions under threat and blackmail."
Gruevski declined to say which foreign intelligence service he believed to be behind the eavesdropping, telling reporters: "The answer to the question is known to our own service."
His intervention marked the latest twist in a scandal that has enveloped the impoverished Balkan country since January, when Zaev was charged by police with collaborating with a foreign country to force snap elections.
Zaev then went public with the tapes, saying Gruevski's government had tapped the phones of 20,000 people.
The government has dismissed the accusations, but the West is watching closely to see how it handles the unfolding scandal. The former Yugoslav republic is trying to join the European Union and NATO.
"They have eavesdropped pro-government and professional, critical journalists in Macedonia," Zaev said. "These conversations show the link between the prime minister, the secret police and the media.
"After this, nobody will have any dilemma as to the kind of regime we live under."
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Larry King)