April 15, 2016 / 2:07 PM / in a year

Macedonian president stands by wiretap pardons despite protests

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov shake hands with Croatian and Slovenian police officers deployed at Macedonian south border with Greece in Gevgelija, Macedonia, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov stood by his decision on Friday to pardon 56 officials in a wiretapping scandal despite days of street protests and mounting national and international calls on him to change his mind.

The amnesty granted by Ivanov this week prevents the 56 government and opposition officials from being prosecuted over revelations of a vast wiretapping operation that has pitched the Balkan country into a paralyzing political crisis.

Macedonia’s three leading political parties wrote to Ivanov on Friday urging him to withdraw the pardons, and the United States and other governments have urged him to reconsider.

Ivanov said in a national address that he would not reverse his decision, but that any of the people who had received pardons and wanted to prove their innocence in court could ask for the pardon to be overturned in their case.

“I think the decision protects the state interest and I inform you that I am standing by it,” Ivanov said.

“Anyone who thinks that a right has been taken from him or that I have done him a bad favor, or wants to prove his innocence in court, I call on him personally, in a written form, to submit a request to annul the decision regarding him.”

Macedonia, a poor Balkan country of two million people has been in turmoil since the opposition accused then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief in February 2015 of orchestrating the wiretapping of over 20,000 people.

The opposition said the recordings revealed government control over journalists, judges, public sector recruitment and the manipulation of elections.

Ivanov warned diplomats on Friday to be measured in their response to the pardons. Ambassadors from EU countries attended a news conference by a special prosecutor in Skopje on Thursday who said she would continue to investigate the wiretap affair.

“I call on the representatives of the international community to be careful in their behavior and activities and to remind them that they might be misinterpreted,” Ivanov said.

European Council President Donald Tusk warned Macedonia on Friday not to let the political crisis endanger its ties with the European Union and NATO, both of which it aspires to join.

The former Yugoslav republic set an early parliamentary election for June 5 on Friday, as called for by an EU-brokered deal to end the political crisis.

However, Zoran Zaev, leader of the biggest opposition party, repeated on Friday that his Social Democratic Union would boycott the election. “Everyone knows that there are no conditions for fair, democratic and free elections. There is a coup d‘etat in this country,” he told a news conference, alluding to Ivanov’s amnesty.

Zaev predicted an intensification of street protests.

Protesters demolished one of Ivanov’s offices and stoned police during three nights of protests this week.

Editing by Adrian Croft and Mark Heinrich

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