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News 18 May 15

Macedonia Opposition Establishes Protest Tent Camp

Opposition supporters spent the night in their tent camp outside the government building after a huge protest on Sunday, but a planned ruling party counter-rally raised fears of clashes.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

 Photo by: BIRN

The protesters said they would not leave the tent camp until the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, who they blame for installing an authoritarian regime in Macedonia, even though the premier’s allies plan to stage a counter-demonstration on Monday.

"For as long as he [Gruevski] is ready to remain in power, we are ready to stay here, for as long as it takes," one of the several thousand protestors who spent the night in the camp told media on Sunday evening.

The protesters started putting up the tents outside the government building after a four-hour-long anti-government and pro-democracy protest on Sunday that observers said attracted at least 40,000 people.

After a big stage set up for the rally was dismantled, activists erected a smaller one that will provide entertainment for the camping protesters.

DJs played music for the campers on Sunday evening while the opposition leadership also spent the first night outdoors with the protesters.

"I plan to stay here until the early morning, after which I will have to prepare and head for talks [with the ruling party]... but I will come back," the head of the opposition Social Democrats Zoran Zaev told media.

While the Sunday protest passed off peacefully despite fears of violence after clashes at a previous rally earlier this month, concerns have been raised that there could be violence on Monday evening when the ruling VMRO DPMNE party stages its counter-rally aimed at expressing support for Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006.

Photo by: BIRN

The counter-rally dubbed "For a Strong Macedonia" is due to take place in front of parliament, less than 800 metres away from the opposition's camp. The authorities have been urged to do all they can to prevent government supporters and their opponents from getting too close to each other.

As part of an internationally-brokered effort to defuse the crisis that has gripped the country, a meeting between Gruevski and Zaev, the second in recent days, is set for today in Skopje, facilitated by the US and EU ambassadors Jess Baily and Aivo Orav.

The head of the junior ruling Democratic Union for Integration, Ali Ahmeti, and the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Albanians, Menduh Thaci, are also expected to attend.

The talks between Gruevski and Zaev are set to continue on Tuesday in Strasbourg. For that reason, authorities gave Zaev his passport back. Zaev's passport was taken from him at the start of the year when the prosecution accused him of plotting violence against top officials, after Gruevski said he had been blackmailed by Zaev to resign.

The calls for Gruevski's resignation come after the opposition started in February to release wiretapped conversations that appear to show that the government has been involved in a wide range of anti-democratic practices.

They include election fraud, the abuse of the justice system and covering up the murder of a young man by a police officer.

Gruevski has insisted that the opposition's tapes of official conversations were "created" by unnamed "foreign [intelligence] services" and given to the opposition in order to destabilise the country.

Photo by: BIRN
Photo by: BIRN
Photo by: BIRN
Photo by: BIRN

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