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 demonstrators, many of them supporters of the main opposition SDSM party, whistled and chanted “Resignation!” and “No justice, no peace!” an AFP reporter at the scene said.
Similar anti-government protests in the capital had turned violent on Wednesday, when demonstrators ransacked the offices used by President Gjorge Ivanov’s team and set fire to the furniture.
“We will not give up,” 53-year old protester Jasmina Stojkovska Simonovic told AFP, adding that she wanted the president “to reverse his decision (on the probe) or resign.”
SDSM leader Zoran Zaev, who joined the latest protests, had earlier called for calm and AFP reporters late Thursday said the demos appeared to pass off without any serious incidents. Fresh protests have been called for Friday.
The tensions in Macedonia come after the president on Tuesday said he had ended a judicial inquiry into the wiretapping controversy, granting a mass amnesty to dozens of people implicated who were facing corruption allegations.
The move sparked condemnation at home and abroad, with the United States and the European Union warning it raised questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and could hurt the nation’s aspirations to join the 28-member EU.
President remains defiant
Ivanov remained defiant and said in an interview Thursday, broadcast live on national television, that his main motive was to put an end to the political crisis.
“As president, it is my responsibility to end the crisis that has lasted for too long,” he said.
Macedonia’s political woes began last year when the SDSM accused then prime minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping some 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the recordings revealed high-level corruption.
The government denied the accusations and in return filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of “spying” and attempting to “destabilise” the Balkan country.
The original scandal triggered protests in Skopje, eventually prompting the EU to step in and mediate.
Gruevski stepped down as premier in January, paving the way for early elections on June 5 – but the opposition has announced a boycott, saying it fears electoral fraud.
Ivanov’s decision to end the corruption inquiry against 56 people, including top politicians, businessmen, judges, prosecutors and mayors, came into effect Wednesday when his decree was published in the official gazette.
The list includes Gruevski – an ally of the president and still Macedonia’s most influential political figure – as well as former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska and ex-intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov.
Zaev and former SDSM leader and ex-president Branko Crvenkovski were also on the list of those amnestied by the president’s move, although both have said they would rather see the probe go ahead.
A special prosecutor had been probing the allegations but her office was caught by surprise by Ivanov’s decision to shelve the inquiry.
‘Mass pardon = impunity’
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic expressed “serious concerns” with the amnesty.
“This decision risks producing a climate of impunity, undermines the rule of law and years of efforts within the country and by the international community, as well as exacerbating the existing political crisis,” she said Thursday.
The US State Department voiced similar objections on Wednesday, with spokesman John Kirby saying Ivanov’s decision would “protect corrupt officials and deny justice to the people of Macedonia”.
In Macedonia itself, the amnesty was denounced by all political parties – including Ivanov’s own VMRO-DPMNE.
“No one in VMRO-DPMNE feels guilty and this is why no one among us wanted to have a halt to proceedings,” party leader Gruevski told a press conference.
EU and US representatives met the president for talks on Thursday, but gave no details of what was discussed.
“Mass pardon = impunity = obstacle to credible elections, Euro-Atlantic path,” US ambassador Jess Baily tweeted after the meeting.
Mass pardon = impunity = obstacle to credible elections, Euro-Atlantic path. 1/2
— Amb. Jess Baily (@AmbBaily) April 14, 2016
— Amb. Jess Baily (@AmbBaily) April 13, 2016