West pushes Macedonian government, opposition towards crisis talks

Reuters News
Posted: May 14, 2015 5:29 AM

By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Western diplomats pressed the leaders of Macedonia's four main parties to meet on Thursday for talks to resolve a deep political crisis that has raised fears of instability in the ex-Yugoslav republic.

Political tensions in Macedonia are building towards a rally on Sunday called by opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev to demand conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski resign over wire-tap disclosures this year that appear to point to widespread abuse of office by senior government officials.

The government says the wire-taps were made by a foreign spy service, and that their content has been doctored. Zaev has been charged with trying to topple the government.

The standoff has already boiled over once into street clashes, raising concern in the West over the stability of the impoverished Balkan state 14 years after NATO and EU diplomacy pulled it from the brink of all-out civil war during an ethnic Albanian insurgency.

A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters there was tentative agreement on a meeting between Gruevski, his ethnic Albanian coalition partner Ali Ahmeti and opposition leaders Zaev and Menduh Thaci.

"It's an initiative by the international community," the source said.

A spokesman for Ahmeti said the meeting would go ahead at 2.30 p.m. (1230 GMT), and would be chaired by the ambassadors of the United States and the European Union. There was no immediate word from Zaev's Social Democrats as to whether he would attend.

Last weekend, a police raid on an ethnic Albanian neighborhood in northern Macedonia left 22 people dead – 14 ethnic Albanians described by the government as "terrorists" and eight police officers – and deepened impressions of a country on the brink.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and Macedonia's intelligence chief, Saso Mijalkov, resigned, saying they hoped the move would help end the crisis. The two have been at the center of the wire-tap scandal.

Gruevski's conservative VMRO-DPMNE party offered on Wednesday to create an ad hoc parliamentary committee to probe the allegations of wrongdoing - on condition the Social Democrats end a boycott of parliament in force since an election in 2014 that Zaev says was rigged.

Zaev says he will not stop until Gruevski steps down.

(Additional reporting by Fatos Bytyci in PRISTINA; Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by John Stonestreet)