SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Thousands of people protested peacefully in the Macedonian capital late Friday on a fourth night of demonstrations against President Gjorge Ivanov's decision to grant pardons that halted criminal proceedings against dozens of politicians, including a former prime minister, amid a wiretapping scandal.
Protesters in Skopje in recent days have demanded Ivanov's resignation. Five police officers and two others have been injured in clashes with police and 13 people arrested.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, expressed concern, saying the presidential pardon "damages the rule of law."
The demonstrations come ahead of June 5 early general elections, called to resolve the months-long political crisis triggered by wiretapping and corruption scandals.
Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who held the position until January, on Friday rejected his pardon and requested Ivanov withdraw it, his conservative VMRO-DPMNE party spokesman Ivo Kotevski said. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev told private TV channel "24 Vesti" he also issued a request to the president to withdraw his pardon.
The opposition had accused Gruevski and his government of being behind a massive scandal in which 20,000 people were illegally wiretapped, including politicians, judges, police, journalists and diplomats. Gruevski has strenuously denied the claims and has accused opposition head Zoran Zaev of plotting a coup.
"Our position is clear, everybody who committed crimes has to be punished," VMRO said. The Social Democrats are demanding Ivanov resign and reiterated they will boycott the June 5 elections, claiming there were no democratic conditions to hold a free and fair vote.
"This is a coup, the Constitution has been violated," opposition leader Zoran Zaev told reporters Friday. He said the protests will be "intensified" and accused Gruevski of "preparing another election theft."
Speaking during a live televised address to the nation, Ivanov said he would not change his decision to issue the pardons, saying he had done so in the interests of protecting national interests.
Investigations have been opened against government officials in the wiretapping scandal, including former ministers of the interior and transportation. They deny the charges.