bne IntelliNews -
Several top Macedonian ministers and officials resigned on May 12, as the country's political crisis deepened after deadly battles between government forces and suspected terrorists on May 9-10 followed a year-long standoff between government and opposition. Macedonia’s parliament is expected to elect their replacements on May 13.
Macedonian Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and Transport Minister Mile Janakieski were key members of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s administration, having held their posts since 2006. The other resignation was that of Saso Mijalkov, director of the administration for security and counterintelligence, who is Gruevski’s cousin. The two ministers wrote in their resignation letters that they wanted to help overcome the political crisis afflicting the country.
Gruevski has already nominated replacements for Jankuloska and Janakieski, state news agency MIA reported. He has proposed Mitko Cavkov, the current director of the public security bureau, as the new interior minister. Vlado Misajlovski, director of the public enterprise for state roads, has been nominated as the new minister of transport and communications. Macedonia’s parliament is expected to elect the new ministers on May 13.
The resignations, which are rumoured to have followed pressure from Gruevski to stand down, are the first serious reaction within the government to the crisis, which has escalated in recent months as the opposition released a series of incriminating audio tapes implicating Gruevski and other top officials in wrongdoing.
At a press conference on May 5, Zoran Zaev, leader of Macedonia’s biggest opposition party the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM), claimed Gruevski had tried to cover up the death of Martin Neskovski in June 2011. Zaev released tapes that include conversations between Jankulovska and other officials regarding the killing of 21-year-old Neskovski, who was beaten to death by a policeman when VMRO-DPMNE supporters were celebrating their party’s victory in the June 2011 parliament election. The police officer responsible for Neskovski’s death subsequently received a 14-year jail sentence.
Gruevski has denied the allegations, saying the tapes were “created, cut and edited”, according to a government statement.
However, Zaev’s revelation sparked violent protests in Skopje. The first and largest demonstration took place in front of the government building shortly after the press conference on May 5. Around 38 policemen were injured in clashes with protestors. Smaller demonstrations took place for several days, and the next anti-government protest is planned for May 17.
This was the latest revelation from Zaev, who in February accused Gruevski of ordering a massive wiretapping campaign that targeted more than 20,000 Macedonian citizens. Since then, the opposition leader has made dozens of allegations, including on government involvement in the judiciary and appointments.
Most of the elected SDSM MPs have been boycotting the parliament since the April 2014 general election. The SDSM claims the election, which resulted in a victory for Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE, was rigged. The opposition party has been calling for Gruevski to step down, and for a technocratic government to be put in place pending snap elections.
Terror in Kumanovo
In a separate development, on May 9-10 at least 22 people, including eight police officers, were killed in armed clashes in the town of Kumanovo, close to Macedonia’s borders with Serbia and Kosovo. This was the worst outbreak of violence in the country since the inter-ethnic conflict between Macedonians and Albanians ended in 2001.
The Macedonian interior ministry said on May 9 that police launched the operation in Kumanovo after receiving intelligence that a terrorist group was planning a series of attacks on civilian and government targets in the country. The government claims up to 8,000 people could have been killed if the attacks had gone ahead.
While Kurmanovo is now under control, the situation in Macedonia remains tense, and several neighbouring countries have stepped up their border security.
International observers have warned that the worsening political and security situation within Macedonia could harm the country’s prospects of EU integration. A joint statement issued by the ambassadors of the EU, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the US on May 11 criticised Gruevski for his government’s lack of progress “towards accounting for the many allegations of government wrongdoing arising from the disclosures”.
“This continued inaction casts serious doubt on the Government of Macedonia’s commitment to the democratic principles and values of the Euro-Atlantic community,” the statement said. “Continued failure to demonstrate this commitment with concrete action will undermine Macedonia’s progress towards EU and NATO membership.”
Meanwhile, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said on May 12 that Macedonia needs the support of the international community to overcome its problems. At a meeting with Latvian Defence Minister Rejmonds Vejonis, Ivanov said the lack of progress in Macedonia’s EU integration was contributing to frustration within the country. Once a frontrunner among the Western Balkans countries, Macedonia’s progress towards EU accession has stalled, mainly because of a dispute with Greece over the name it shares with a Greek province.
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