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Protests grip Macedonian capital

BBC News BBC News 15/04/2016
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. Photo: 12 April 2016: President Gjorge Ivanov's amnesty for politicians in a wiretapping probe has led to protests © AP President Gjorge Ivanov's amnesty for politicians in a wiretapping probe has led to protests

Anti-government protesters in Macedonia have taken to the streets for a fourth night following a presidential pardon for 56 politicians embroiled in a corruption scandal.

A police officer enters the President’s office demolished by protestors in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, late Wednesday, April 13, 2016.: On Wednesday the president's offices were ransacked © AP On Wednesday the president's offices were ransacked

President Gjorge Ivanov said he stood by the pardons, which annulled judicial investigations into the politicians.

Protestors burn furniture taken out of the demolished President’s office in downtown Skopje, Macedonia, late Wednesday, April 13, 2016.: Furniture from the president's office was burned in the street © AP Furniture from the president's office was burned in the street

Mr Ivanov was speaking hours after parliament was dissolved and early elections called for 5 June.

But the main opposition party, SDSM, said it would boycott the elections.

Last year, the party accused former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists.

Mr Gruevski is one of the 56 people who have had judicial investigations into their conduct cancelled.

Others include former Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and former intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov as well as the leader of the main opposition party SDSM, Zoran Zaev, and former SDSM president Branko Crvenkovski.

However, both the SDSM and Mr Ivanov's own VMRO-DPMNE party have said they want the investigations to go ahead.

Mr Zaev has been releasing a steady stream of recordings since February 2015, saying scores of leaked recordings reveal corruption at the highest levels of government, including the mismanagement of funds, dubious criminal prosecutions of opponents and even cover-ups of killings.

President unrepentant

Protesters convened in Macedonia square in the capital Skopje on Friday evening.

On previous nights demonstrators had ransacked presidential offices but protests were more peaceful on Thursday and Friday.

They demanded the resignation of President Ivanov and the postponement of the elections.

Parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski had confirmed the elections earlier on Friday.

President Ivanov said the ballot would be a "new chapter for Macedonia".

But Zoran Zaev said his party would not take part.

"Everyone knows that there are no conditions for fair, democratic and free elections," he said in a news conference on Friday.

EU President Donald Tusk warned that Macedonia must be "guided by the rule of law".

"The country's Euro-Atlantic future is at risk," he said in a tweet on Friday.

Russia has backed Mr Ivanov and accused the opposition of "stirring political conflict".

Mr Ivanov was unrepentant, telling the nation that anyone who wanted their pardon annulled could ask him.

"Anyone who thinks that a right has been taken from him or that I have done him a bad favour, or wants to prove his innocence in court, I call on him personally, in a written form, to submit a request to annul the decision regarding him," he said.

Macedonia's political crisis began when the SDSM accused Mr Guevski of wiretapping and corruption. Mr Gruevski then accused the SDSM of spying.

Mr Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January to pave the way for early elections, which were initially scheduled for February before being postponed until June.

The pardons have been condemned internationally, with the US and EU warning that they raised questions about rule of law in Macedonia and could undermine the country's aim of joining the EU.

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