Mass protests in Skopje after president halts investigations into former top officials

Mass protests in Skopje after president halts investigations into former top officials
By Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje April 13, 2016

Hundreds of people took to the streets in the Macedonian capital Skopje on April 12, after president Gjorge Ivanov’s shock decision to halt all proceedings against politicians under criminal investigation. The move seriously undermines the work of the country’s Special Prosecution office amid a deepening political crisis in Macedonia.

The Special Prosecution office, led by Katica Janeva, was set up to probe allegations based on illegally wiretapped conversations between senior officials that were released by the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) in 2015. The office has already launched three investigations involving former high-ranking government officials, but its work has been undermined by the courts, which have refused to detain former high officials.

Ivanov said that the aim of his move was to put an end to the political crisis in the country.

I’m taking a decision in the interest of the country and decided to put an end to this agony for Macedonia, the president said in a statement on his website.

The decision encompasses many supporters of my political option, but also many political opponents, he added. He also claimed that the political crisis had been “imposed from abroad”.

A former law professor, Ivanov was the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party’s candidate for president.

Political parties in Macedonia reached the EU-brokered Przino agreement in July 2015 to overcome a lengthy political crisis, which deepened after the SDSM released the taped conversations concerning, among other things, the involvement of the VMRO-DPMNE-led government in the judiciary, media and key appointments. However, the implementation of the deal is going very slowly and has failed in many aspects.

The march in Skopje began in front of the Special Prosecutor’s office to demonstrate its support for the prosecutors to continue their investigations, and continued to the national office of the president in downtown Skopje, then to the nearby VMRO-DPMNE offices, broadcaster Nova TV reported. Protestors threw eggs and other missiles at the president’s office.

Special police units were deployed in front of the government, where the protest spread.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev joined the protest along with other top members of the party, according to Nova TV.

This is a coup d'etat, Zaev said in a party statement, and urged Ivanov to resign.

If Ivanov fails to do so, the state will be brought to a state of emergency and will be “on the verge of explosion”, Zaev said.

“They dishonoured the Constitution, the laws and the dignity of citizens. They buried the Przino agreement,” Zaev said.

The special prosecutors launched their third investigation, Fortress, on March 30. The probe targets five people, including two heads of the secret police departments and former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, for allegedly destroying surveillance equipment for illicit wiretapping in 2015.

The previous two cases were Torture and Titanik. In the Torture case, an investigation was launched against a former head of the intelligence service, Saso Mijalkov, a cousin of ex-prime minister Nikola Gruevski, and six police officers, for allegedly torturing former minister Ljube Boskovski, who was arrested the day after the June 2011 general election.

The first case, Titanik, is related to an investigation into suspected election fraud involving Jankulovska and former transport minister Mile Janakieski.

As part of the Przino agreement, Macedonia is due to hold a snap general election on June 5, and the Macedonian parliament was dismissed on April 6. However, it is still uncertain whether the election will take place as the SDSM has said it will not participate as conditions for a free election have not been met.