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News 12 May 15

Ambassadors Press Macedonia to Probe Wiretap Claims

Western ambassadors have told PM Gruevski of their disappointment over the failure of the government to investigate the grave claims that have arisen from recently revealed wiretapped conversations.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Macedonian government | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

After meeting Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Monday, the US, French, British, German and EU ambassadors said they were concerned about the lack of progress in investigating allegations of government wrongdoing raised by wiretapped conversations of officials.

"This continued inaction casts serious doubt on the government of Macedonia's commitment to the democratic principles and values of the Euro-Atlantic community," the US ambassador, Jess Baily, told the media.

"Continued failure to demonstrate this commitment with concrete action will undermine Macedonia's progress towards EU and NATO membership" the ambassador added.

The ambassadors told Gruevski that if the exposures by the opposition had revealed clearly unacceptable behavior, they expect "appropriate political and legal measures to be taken against those responsible".

Since February, the opposition has been releasing taped conversations that appear to show that the government has been involved in a range of misdeeds and political tricks, including electoral fraud, abuse of the justice system and the media and covering up for the murder of a young man by a police officer.

The revelations have sparked large anti-government protests and have increased pressure on Gruevski to resign.

However, Gruevski, in power for nine years, insists the tapes were "created" by unnamed foreign intelligence services and given to the opposition in order to destabilize the country.

In light of the institutional weaknesses that the tapes reveal, the ambassadors proposed "specific reforms" that include strengthening of the integrity of the electoral system, the independence of the judiciary and the media and protecting whistleblowers.

In the light of last week's violence at a protest in front of the government building, since when the police have arrested some protesters and prevented others from gathering in front of the building, Baily reminded the government that the ambassadors "fully support the fundamental democratic right of citizens to assemble and peacefully protest" while calling on everyone to refrain from violence.

The ambassadors remarks come at a fraught time following a weekend shootout in Kumanovo, which claimed the lives of eight officers and of at least 14 gunmen.

The armed crisis briefly interrupted anti-government protests and diverted attention from the wiretapping scandal.

The timing of the crisis prompted many opponents of the government, including the opposition Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, to accuse the authorities of attempting to distract the public from the political crisis by orchestrating ethnic unrest.

However, Zaev on Monday said preparations for a rally in Skopje scheduled for May 17 will continue and that events in Kumanovo would not prevent him from publishing more evidence of government wrongdoing.

In an interview for 24 Vesti, he accused the authorities of knowing about the armed group for at least a year and eight months before the shootout, asking why they did nothing to neutralize it earlier.

"They lied to me because when I asked how long they had been tracking this criminal terror group, they said eight months. I have proof that they had done so for a year and eight months," Zaev said.

A former secret police chief, Goran Mitevski, told Alsat M on Monday that it "sounds illogical" that a large armed group was able to infiltrate the country with such a heavy weaponry and pass unnoticed by the security forces.

He also asked why, if the authorities knew about the group's existence, they chose a densely populated town like Kumanovo to attack it, resulting in a large loss of life and danger to the civilian population.

In a dramatic TV address after the shootout, Gruevski said the police had neutralized a dangerous and well armed terror group that had infiltrated Macedonia from a neighbouring country.

He also accused "opposition politicians and so-called journalists" of "scoring political points on the backs of the dead and wounded", calling it an "utterly cowardly act".

In an ominous message, he also warned that "all those who wish to do ill to the country... will end up like this terror group".

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