President Gjorge Ivanov has announced a pardon for all politicians investigated over a massive wiretaping scandal in Macedonia. The opposition decried the move as a "coup d'état" and called for his resignation.
The pardon aims to end the long-running political crisis in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, President Ivanov said on Tuesday.
"I have decided to put an end to this agony for Macedonia," he told reporters.
Ivanov's decision comes amid a sharp political confrontation in the Balkan state, after opposition leaders accused the government of spying on over 20,000 people, and published a large number of the alleged wiretap recordings in March last year.
The opposition also used the recordings as evidence of the state controlling reporters, judges and public officials, and manipulating election results. However, the government led by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski denied any wrongdoing.
Instead, the state officials filed criminal charges against the main opposition leader Zoran Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempts to "destabilize" the former Yugoslav republic.
Faced with the growing crisis, Gruevski's interior minister and intelligence chief both resigned, but maintained their innocence. Eventually, the prime minister also agreed to step down and called for a snap election under an EU-brokered deal.
The vote is expected in June this year.
Opposition decries 'criminal gang'
On Tuesday, Macedonian President Ivanov said he would pardon all politicians involved in the scandal, presumably including the opposition leader Zaev.
Ivanov said his move was not motivated by political alliances, but only by the "state and national interest" in ending the political crisis.
"I will not get into the issue of someone being guilty or innocent," he said. "I am starting with the presumption of innocence. My assumption is that most of the people are not guilty of the crimes for which they are being investigated, although I cannot prove it without a court decision."
Responding to Ivanov's move, Zaev called on the president to resign immediately.
"This is a coup d'état of Gruevski's criminal gang, and Ivanov has became his accomplice," he told reporters in Skopje. "We will use all the tools at our disposal to stop it."
EU against amnesty
As a part of the EU-brokered deal, Macedonia also set up a special prosecutor to investigate the wiretapping revelations.
It was not immediately clear what consequences President Ivanov's decision would have for the prosecutor's office.
The EU's enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn also criticized Ivanov's announcement. Hahn, who is in charge of EU's relations to would-be members, said that he had "serious doubts if credible elections are still possible."
"Political leaders must know that the actions we have seen recently put the EuroAtlantic future of their country seriously at risk," he posted on Twitter.
dj/bk (Reuters, Beta, AP, dw)