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Macedonian ministers, intelligence chief resign

Macedonia's interior and transport ministers, as well as its intelligence chief, have resigned following a weekend raid which left eight police officers dead. The government is also under fire over illegal wiretapping.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski accepted the resignations of his interior and transport ministers and his intelligence chief Tuesday, ahead of a large anti-government rally over series of scandals involving top officials, set for Sunday.

In recent months, Interior Minister Gordana Jankuloska and intelligence chief Saso Mijalkov both stirred criticism from the opposition over their alleged involvement in

illegal wiretapping and parallel structures

inside the security forces.

The country's transport minister Mile Janakieski also quit on Tuesday.

The three top officials were among Gruevski's closest allies inside the government, and had been part of the administration since his party took power in 2006. Mijalkov, director of the Administration for Security and Counterintelligence, is also the prime minister's cousin.

Truth 'at our side'

In his letter of resignation, Mijalkov said he was stepping down to help in overcoming the current political crisis, which he claims was imposed by the opposition. He added that he was "aware that the truth and arguments are on our side," and that he would always be "at the frontlines" for his homeland.

Jankuloska and Janakieski also cited the political crisis as a reason for their resignations.

Political and ethnic tensions

The cabinet reshuffle follows a

bloody shootout in the northern city of Kumanovo

over the weekend, which claimed the lives of eight police officers and 14 alleged Albanian terrorists. The raid heightened fears of ethnically charged conflict in the former Yugoslav republic.

Almost one third of the 2.1 million people living in Macedonia are ethnic Albanians, and distrust between the groups runs deep, even with Albanians represented in the government.

Some of Gruevski's opponents claim he orchestrated the incident in order to distract the public from allegations of corruption.

NATO, which helped diffuse the 2001 Albanian insurgency, has called for restraint and a "transparent investigation" of this latest incident.

On Monday, EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said the attack should not distract attention from Macedonia's "very serious internal political situation" or be used "to introduce ethnic tensions."

The parliament is set to discuss replacements for the two ministers on Wednesday.

dj/cmk (MIA, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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