Macedonia's ruling party offers new concession in wire-tap scandal

Reuters News
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Posted: May 13, 2015 8:02 AM

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia's ruling party offered a parliamentary probe on Wednesday into a mass wiretap scandal, a fresh concession designed to save Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski from growing popular anger.

The move follows the resignation on Tuesday of two of Gruevski's closest allies -- Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and intelligence chief Saso Mijalkov -- and rising diplomatic pressure from the West to end a crisis that has already provoked clashes between police and protesters.

Gruevski's government is on the ropes over opposition allegations of widespread abuse of power stemming from taped phone conversations that were released to the media earlier this year by opposition leader Zoran Zaev.

Momentum is building toward a Sunday rally called by Zaev.

A weekend of bloodshed when a police raid left 22 people dead -- 14 ethnic Albanians described by the government as terrorists and eight police officers -- has deepened the sense of a state losing control.

A statement from the speaker of parliament, ruling party member Trajko Veljanovski, said the chamber had decided to form an "ad hoc commission to look into the claims related to the wire-tap case," chaired by a member of the opposition.

The United States and European Union had both called for such a commission. Veljanovski conditioned the move, however, on Zaev's opposition Social Democrats ending its boycott of parliament over a 2014 election that it says was rigged.

There was no immediate response from Zaev, who has said he will settle for nothing less than the removal of Gruevski.

Zaev says a whistleblower leaked to him the mountain of wiretaps that appear to point to extensive government control over journalists and judges, meddling in elections and the appointment of party faithful to public sector jobs.

Gruevski says foreign spies are behind the accusations and Zaev has been charged with trying to topple the government.

Western ambassadors on Monday said the government's failure to investigate cast "serious doubt" on its commitment to European democratic principles and values.

The standoff has already boiled over once into street clashes, raising concern in the West about the stability of Macedonia 14 years after it narrowly avoided all-out civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency.

The country of 2 million people is a candidate for EU membership. But its EU and NATO accession are blocked by a long-running dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name, feeding into frustration over poverty, unemployment and corruption.

(Writing by Matt Robinson)