SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov announced Tuesday he is issuing a presidential pardon terminating all criminal proceedings against politicians from both the ruling parties and the opposition.
The move is aimed at defusing a political crisis sparked by a wiretapping scandal that has shaken the country since February 2015, leading to months of political crisis and triggering an early election.
But the pardon prompted an angry reaction from political parties on both sides, criticism from the European Union, and street protests, with demonstrators pelting his office with eggs.
In a televised address, Ivanov said he had signed the presidential decree to "defend national interests."
"I've decided to put an end to the agony and, metaphorically speaking, to cut a knot," Ivanov said. He did not refer to any politicians by name.
"This unprecedented political confrontation has resulted in endless (acts) of hatred and recrimination," he said, calling for a process of national reconciliation.
"Macedonian against Macedonian: It's enough. We are taking a step in the right direction.
The political crisis was sparked by opposition allegations that the governing conservatives wiretapped 20,000 people, including police, judges, journalists and diplomats. Investigations have been opened against government officials, including former ministers of the interior and transportation. They deny the charges.
The conservatives deny the charges, blaming the wiretapping on "foreign agents" and accusing opposition leader Zoran Zaev of espionage.
In an effort to resolve the crisis, the main political parties signed a European-brokered deal last June agreeing to early elections, set for this June 5.
EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who mediated the talks, wrote on Twitter: "Today's actions of President Ivanov are not in line with my understanding of rule of law."
He added: "Political leaders must know that the actions we have seen recently put the Euro-Atlantic future of their country seriously at risk."
Late Tuesday, several hundred protesters gathered in front of Ivanov's office in downtown Skopje, the nation's capital, throwing eggs and demanding his resignation. Protesters also gathered outside the offices of the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party.
Social-Democrat opposition leader Zaev joined the protesters' calls for Ivanov's resignation, maintaining that he did not need a pardon.
"We are not all criminals," Zaev said.