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News 20 Apr 15

Macedonia Opposition: PM ‘Ordered Attack on Mayor’

The Macedonian Prime Minister ordered a physical attack on an opposition mayor in 2013, the opposition alleged as it revealed its latest batch of wiretapped conversations between top officials.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
In June 2013, shortly after Zernovski won local polls in Skopje’s Centar municipality, a violent mob surrounded the municipality building | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

At their 23rd press conference in recent weeks on the subject of alleged government wiretapping, the opposition Social Democrats on Sunday presented covertly-recorded tapes that they say prove that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was behind unrest in Skopje's opposition-governed municipality of Centar in June 2013.

On one tape Gruevski's voice allegedly can be heard ordering Transportation Minister Mile Janakieski to stage a physical attack against the newly-elected opposition mayor of Centar, Andrej Zernovski.

"I am thinking that he [Zernovski] should take five to six slaps in front of the cameras on Friday. Let citizens enter [the municipal building] and one of them should slap him three times, hard," Gruevski's voice appears to tell Janakieski, to which he replies: "We could arrange a scenario."

Gruevski further suggests that the person chosen to attack Zernovski will not be prosecuted for serious criminal offences because the opposition mayor will not sustain serious injuries. 

The two then plot how to bring "our own people" to protests in front of the municipality building under the false pretext that the opposition mayor is about to demolish a church that is being built on his territory.

Gruevski appears to suggest that some of the protestors should storm the municipal building and how ruling party delegates should obstruct the council session so that the mayor cannot work normally.

In June 2013, shortly after Zernovski won Centar at local elections, a violent mob surrounded the municipality building, breaking windows and protesting against the mayor's alleged plan - which he denied - to demolish an Orthodox church.

One municipal employee was injured and the mayor had to be evacuated during the incident. Gruevski's ruling VMRO DPMNE party insisted at the time that it had nothing to do with the unrest.

Despite the opposition's accusations that the protestors were in fact undercover ruling party thugs, the VMRO DPMNE and most of the protesters insisted that they gathered spontaneously, outraged by the mayor's alleged plan. 

Further recordings revealed on Sunday by the Social Democrats suggested that the Prime Minister was involved in the construction of new buildings in Skopje’s central area.

One tape of what appeared to be a conversation between Janakieski and Gruevski showed that practically all the available building lots around the main Macedonia Square have been purchased and developed by firms close to the two men, the opposition alleged.

When Gruevski's asks if one domestic investor is interested in purchasing a construction lot, Janakieski replies that he told the investor not to apply in order not to further raise suspicion that "we" own everything around the square. The opposition said this suggested that Gruevski and his associates had their eye on particularly attractive lots.

Another tape released on Sunday appeared to portray Gruevski as ethnically intolerant. When informed by Janakieski that an Albanian investor is interested in building in Skopje’s central area, Gruevski initially argues that if the land it bought by the Albanian, it may attract more Albanians to the city centre.

Mayor Andrej Zernovski took office in Centar in 2013 | Photo by: opstinacentar.gov.mk

"You know which country he is coming from. Should we let him in, here in the square, they [Albanians] will be encouraged to come to the square," Gruevski appears to say.

He then seems to change his mind when it is explained that the investor is an artist educated in France who is Catholic, not Muslim like most of the Albanians in Macedonia.

Another conversation appears to feature Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska telling the PM's cabinet chief that he should intervene and stop their “guys” from demolishing opposition HQs because she is forced to lie and "play the fool" by telling the public that the police cannot find the perpetrators.

Gruevski's party did not respond specifically to Sunday’s new allegations, only repeating that the opposition is trying to destabilise and shame the country.

The opposition started releasing the tapes of government conversations in February. It claims that Gruevski orchestrated the illegal surveillance of some 20,000 people and that the material comes from sources in the Macedonian secret services.

Gruevski has so far insisted that the tapes were created by unnamed "foreign secret services" in collaboration with the opposition in order to destabilise the country.

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