Macedonia: Ministers Toppled in Phone-Tapping Scandal
By Saska Cvetkovska
Macedonia’s interior minister, transport minister, and chief of the Secret Police have all resigned in the wake of a corruption scandal that has rocked the country with protests.
Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski accepted the resignations of Gordana Jankuloska, Mile Janakieski and Saso Mijalkov late last night, and immediately submitted proposals for their replacement in Parliament.
The three senior officials were the main voices that appeared to feature in a series of taped conversations that the leader of the opposition party Social Democrats of Macedonia (SDSM) Zoran Zaev played to the public over the course of 30 press conferences since February.
Zaev accused Mijalkov and Prime Minister Gruevski, who are cousins, of ordering the illegal surveillance of more than 20,000 citizens including opposition politicians, journalists, activists, workers from non-governmental organizations, businessmen, and even Gruevski's own ministers and government officials.
The taped conversations appear to show abuse of power by officials such as electoral fraud, interference with the judiciary and prosecution, covering up murders, and fixing tenders.
Zaev claimed to have obtained the recordings from a government source, while Gruevski has said they are the work of opposition activists in collaboration with foreign secret services who are trying to topple his government.
The opposition along with civil activist groups has called for the resignation of the government. The situation escalated after mass protests on May 5 when violence broke out in front of Skopje’s government building. Police clashed with demonstrators and many were arrested and injured, including 38 policemen.
A deadly shoot-out in the northern town of Kumanovo at the weekend proved the tip of the iceberg. In an armed confrontation between police and what officials said was as a terror group made up of ethnic Albanians, eight officers were killed and 37 people injured.
Leaders in the international community have joined calls for a swift resolution to the unrest. Vice-president of the European Parliament Alexander Graf Lamsdorff called on Gruevski to resign. He said the prime minister was an obstacle on the way to reducing ethnic tensions, and said the region was on the brink of civil war.
On Monday, ambassadors from the United States, European Union, Germany, France, Italy and UK met with Gruevski. They told the media that they had expressed concerns over the lack of progress in investigating allegations of government wrongdoing raised by the wiretapped conversations.
"This continued inaction casts serious doubt on the government of Macedonia's commitment to the democratic principles and values of the Euro-Atlantic community. Continued failure to demonstrate this commitment with concrete action will undermine Macedonia's progress towards EU and NATO membership," said US ambassador Jess Baily.
Opposition leaders have said that they will hold more protests beginning Sunday to call for Gruevski to resign.