Western envoys gather Macedonia rivals for crisis talks

Bitter political enemies determined to stage big opposing rallies in the coming days

Macedonia’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski: has accepted the resignation of two ministers and the state security chief but refuses to step down. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

Macedonia’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski: has accepted the resignation of two ministers and the state security chief but refuses to step down. Photograph: Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters

 

Western-brokered crisis talks in Macedonia have raised hopes of a peaceful resolution to the country’s turmoil, despite declarations from bitter political enemies they would go ahead with rival street protests in the coming days.

The EU and US ambassadors to the ex-Yugoslav republic – a candidate for EU and Nato membership – gathered leaders of its main parties for negotiations yesterday, amid fears for its stability after a deadly gun battle and months of tension.

“In this difficult week for the country, we have assembled to voice joint support for democratic values, including the right to peaceful protest, and to condemn any acts of violence motivated either by criminal or political goals,” the four party chiefs said last night.

“We have also agreed to resume dialogue for advancing the country’s Euro-Atlantic agenda for the benefit of citizens,” they said.

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev is demanding the resignation of prime minister Nikola Gruevski’s government, having released secretly recorded conversations that seem to implicate senior officials in lurid criminal, corrupt and anti-democratic activity.

Mr Gruevski accepted the resignation of two ministers and the state security chief – who is his cousin – this week, but refuses to step down.

He claims an unnamed foreign state gave Mr Zaev the wiretaps, and prosecutors accuse the centre-left opposition chief of plotting a coup.

A video also emerged this week apparently showing Mr Zaev requesting a large bribe. The crisis deepened last weekend, when police engaged in a 36-hour gun battle with an alleged “terror” group that officials said was led by ethnic-Albanians from neighbouring Kosovo.

That clash – which killed 14 gunmen and eight police officers – stoked fears of a return to ethnic strife in Macedonia, which in 2001 witnessed a brief insurgency by rebels demanding more power for the country’s 25 per cent ethnic-Albanian minority. With public trust at rock bottom, Mr Zaev and many compatriots suspect the gunfight may have been part of an attempt to distract attention from the government’s woes.

Yesterday’s talks appeared to fail to persuade Mr Zaev to end his Social Democrat party’s boycott of a parliament he says is illegitimate. His allies plan to go ahead with a protest march in Skopje, on Sunday; Mr Gruevski’s centre-right party plan to march the next day.