Macedonia Government Says Opposition Seeks Conflict Before Rally

Macedonia’s ruling party accused the opposition of trying to ignite conflict in the ethnically diverse Balkan state a day before protesters will rally in a call for Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski to resign.

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev, head of the Social-Democratic Union of Macedonia, has released tapes he says are among thousands of wire-taps the government is using to influence judges, politicians, diplomats and police. With the government denying wrongdoing, Zaev and other opposition leaders have organized a protest for Sunday, saying they’ll draw more than 70,000 people to call for Gruevski to step down.

The protest deepens the worst political crisis to hit the former Yugoslav nation of 2 million since it declared independence in 1991. Along with the political tension, 22 people died in fighting between police and insurgents near Macedonia’s border with Kosovo last week in what Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called a “well-prepared terrorist action.”

“In his desire for power, Zaev is willing to sacrifice everything, peace and stability, economic development and coexistence among citizens,” Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party said in a statement on its website on Friday, according to Skopje-based newspaper Nova Makedonija’s website.

Security Risk

The tension contrasts with the outlook for Macedonia’s economy, which is set to lead the region in growth, expanding 3.5 percent this year and accelerating to 3.7 percent next year, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Thursday.

The yield on Macedonia’s euro-denominated bonds maturing in 2021 rose to 4 percent on Friday’s close in Skopje, compared with 3.83 percent a week earlier, before the battle between police and militants, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Macedonian denar was little changed at 61.5096 per euro.

“Not only is there now an internal security risk, but the already fragile political coalition balance between Gruevski’s conservative party and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration hangs on the balance,” Tin Kapetanovic of Teneostrategy in Brussels said in an e-mail.

The clash was the worst outbreak of violence since 2001, when an ethnic-Albanian insurgency almost tipped into civil war. The government blamed the violence on Albanian paramilitary groups from neighboring Kosovo as well as from Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians account for about a quarter of the population.

On the political front, Zaev’s party refused to recognize a 2014 election in which the VMRO-DPMNE took 61 of parliament’s 123 seats. The Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections, said the ruling party benefited from support from the government that “did not respect the separation of party and the state.”

“There is no more place for Gruevski in political life in this country,” Zaev said on Friday, according to news website Faktor.

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