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SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski rallied supporters on Sunday against a growing surveillance scandal challenging his nine-year rule, and dismissed opposition calls for a snap election.
Gruevski's conservative government is coming under increasing domestic and international pressure to address a wave of accusations leveled by the opposition that it orchestrated a huge, illegal wire-tapping operation targeting 20,000 people.
The West is watching closely, given Macedonia's hopes of one day joining NATO and the European Union and the threat of instability in a country that narrowly avoided civil war in 2001.
Putting up a show of force, Gruevski rallied around 10,000 supporters in a packed sports hall in the capital Skopje, telling them he had no intention of giving in to opposition demands for a transitional government as a prelude to early parliamentary elections.
"We always believed it is the people who give the mandate or legitimacy through elections, and the people who choose who will form the government and who will not," he said.
"By forming a transitional government we create the space for a serious precedent that could lead to conflict between parties," he said.
Macedonia's next regular parliamentary election is due in 2018. Gruevski has been in office since mid-2006.
Opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev has so far aired 10 batches of wire-tapped conversations demonstrating what he says is the government's control over the judiciary and media and its meddling in elections.
Zaev began releasing the tapes after police charged him in late January with plotting to topple the government. Gruevski says the wire taps are the work of a foreign spy agency, which has colluded with Zaev to publish them and destabilize the country.
"Its over for Gruevski," Zaev said on Sunday. "Only his resignation and a transitional government can resolve this crisis."
Zaev denies working with a foreign intelligence agency.
Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams