Macedonian opposition sets conditions for joining Vienna talks

Commissioner Johannes Hahn and opposition leader Zoran Zaev (R). [European Commission]

Macedonia’s opposition said on Wednesday (20 April) that it would only join EU talks on resolving the country’s political crisis if the government revoked an amnesty for politicians embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal and postpone the 5 June elections.

Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn has invited Macedonian leaders to talks in Vienna on Friday (22 April) on ending the political crisis that has gripped the small Balkan country for the last two years.

Hahn invites Macedonia leaders to Vienna talks

The European Union has invited Macedonian leaders to talks Friday (22 April) on ending the political crisis that has gripped the small Balkan country for the last two years.

President Gjorge “Ivanov has to withdraw the shameful decision on amnesty… (which is) contrary to the constitution,” Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition Social Democrats (SDSM), told reporters.

The amnesty has been condemned by the EU and the US.

West condemns Macedonian president’s amnesty for corrupt officials

Thousands took to the streets of the Macedonian capital for a third consecutive evening yesterday (14 April) to protest against the president’s shock decision to halt probes into more than 50 public figures embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal.

“The parliament has to annul the 5 June date for elections,” he insisted, saying the ballot should be postponed “until conditions for a democratic, fair and credible vote are met”.

“Otherwise, SDSM will not participate at the (Friday) meeting in Vienna,” he added.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE conservative party has already accepted the European Union’s invitation to crisis talks in Vienna.

Last week, Macedonia announced snap elections on 5 June, but the opposition said it would boycott the ballot on grounds that conditions for free and fair polls had not been met — a contention backed by the EU and the US.

EU doubts if credible elections in Macedonia are still possible

Macedonia’s president on Tuesday (12 April) blocked all judicial proceedings against top politicians embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal that sparked a major political crisis, a move the European Union said raised “serious concerns”.

Zaev has accused the ruling conservatives of corruption, massive electoral fraud and clamping down the media.

On Wednesday, he said the party had “buried the agreement” reached under EU auspices last year which was aimed at resolving the two-year political crisis in the Balkans country.

The crisis ratcheted up a gear earlier this month, when Ivanov halted a probe into more than 50 public figures suspected of involvement in corruption and a wire-tapping scandal.

The move has triggered daily street protests against Ivanov and the ruling party’s leader, Nikola Gruevski.

Protesters ransack Macedonia president's office as crisis deepens

Protesters ransacked the offices of Macedonia’s presidency late yesterday (13 April) and set fire to the furniture, as thousands took to the capital’s streets in a deepening political crisis.

Late Wednesday thousands of people took to the streets of Skopje and other Macedonian towns once again to show their support for the opposition. There were no reports of serious incidents.

More protests are planned for Thursday (21 April) when ruling party supporters are also set to make their feeling felt on the capital’s streets after a pause of several days.

Ivanov’s decision to end the wiretapping probe was also condemned by Brussels and Washington. Observers said it raised questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and damaged the country’s ambitions to draw closer to the EU and the US.

The former Yugoslav republic has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but has yet to open accession talks. It is also a candidate to join NATO since 2009.

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