Macedonian president revokes pardons for politicians

Skopje (AFP) –


Macedonia's president on Friday revoked the pardons he had granted to 22 politicians implicated in a wiretapping scandal, after the move sparked outrage inside and outside the troubled Balkan country.

In a surprise announcement last month, President Gjorge Ivanov said he was halting probes into 56 people involved in the scandal, sparking angry protests across Macedonia and international condemnation.

"I have made the decision to annul the pardon for all 22 politically active persons," Ivanov said in an address broadcast live on national television, but stopped short of giving names.

The list is expected to include the president's ally Nikola Gruevski, former prime minister and leader of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, who had officially demanded that the pardon be revoked.

The scandal erupted last year when opposition leader Zoran Zaev began releasing tapes that appeared to reveal widespread official wiretapping of Macedonians, including politicians and journalists, and high-level corruption.

The tapes sparked mass protests for and against Gruevski's government, and the European Union stepped in to mediate a deal.

But Ivanov's surprise mass pardon to those implicated only intensified the crisis, sparking further demonstrations.

His decision was immediately condemned by all Macedonian political parties, the United States and the European Union, which insisted the pardons should be "rescinded without delay".

Last week Macedonia's parliament postponed snap elections scheduled for early June, which were supposed to end the political turmoil.

But the VMRO-DPMNE was the only major contender to register candidates, with other parties boycotting because they believed conditions for a free and fair vote had not been met.

"No one should have any more doubts. None of the politicians are above the law," Ivanov said as he announced the pardon.

"On the contrary, everyone will be held responsible for their actions."

Macedonia, which has also been on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis, applied for EU membership in 2005 but has yet to open accession talks.