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Europe

Macedonia's defiant prime minister rallies supporters

A day after a massive anti-government rally in the Macedonian capital, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has told his supporters that he has no plans of stepping down. Boris Georgievski reports from Skopje.

In front of thousands of flag-waving supporters, Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski vowed on Monday that he would not step down.

"No retreat! No surrender! Macedonia is strong and Macedonia will win. We will win!" said Gruevski, as the massive crowd chanted his name.

The pro-government rally came as tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the Macedonian capital, Skopje, for a second day in a row, further fueling the already heated political standoff between the government and the opposition.

On Sunday, the opposition Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) and various civic movements

mobilized more than 50,000 people

to demand the resignation of the conservative prime minister and his government.

Defiant, strong-willed

Gruevski is under huge pressure from the opposition and the international community after opposition leader Zoran Zaev released information claiming to link Gruevski and his government to widespread corruption, interference in the judiciary and the media and illegal wiretapping of 20,000 people, including police, judges, journalists and foreign diplomats.

Mazedonien pro-Regierungsdemonstration in Skopje

"No retreat! No surrender! Macedonia is strong and Macedonia will win. We will win!": Gruevski (center)

But during Monday's rally, Gruevski appeared defiant and strong-willed as he repeatedly accused Zaev himself of corruption and of being supported by "foreign intelligence services." His words were echoed by his supporters.

"We must not give up. We support the government and the prime minister in defense of the country from the foreign enemy," one supporter, who did not want to be named, told DW.

The repeated mention of the "foreign enemy" and of "foreign intelligence services" has become a common theme in Gruevski's speeches after the wiretapping scandal went public earlier this month. Some believe that the prime minister's word choice only shows his growing desperation after nine years in power.

"Gruevski is entering a tunnel, and he knows there is only one exit," said political analyst Petar Arsovski in an interview with DW. "He does not want to be excluded from the game, and with this protest he wants to show the world that he is still powerful and that he has to be part of the solution."

The European Parliament has invited both Gruevski and Zaev to Strasbourg, France on Tuesday for talks in an attempt to resolve the crisis. But there is no real sense of optimism that the talks might lead to a solution, an anonymous parliamentary source told DW. Two rounds of talks mediated by the US and EU ambassadors in Skopje have

already failed to break the political impasse

.

'Gruevski must leave'

After Sunday's opposition rally, dozens of anti-government protesters set up tents in front of Gruevski's office, saying they planned to stay until he steps down.

Mazedonien Proteste gegen Ministerpräsident Nikola Gruevski

Anti-government protesters have camped out in front of parliament, and have said they won't leave until Gruevski steps down

Sitting in front of his tent, some 800 meters (about half a mile) away from the stage where Gruevski was speaking, Zamir Mehmeti could hear the roar of the prime minister's supporters.

"We have gathered here with one goal: Gruevski must leave," he said.

Mehmeti, an ethnic Albanian, joined the opposition protest - even though the Albanian political parties had called on their supporters to stay home.

On May 9, a group of armed ethnic Albanians

clashed with Macedonian police in a northern border town

, leaving 18 dead - 10 gunmen and eight police officers.

Mehmeti's sister, Ermira, is a parliamentarian and a member of the Albanian Democratic Union for Integrations party, or DUI, a junior governing coalition partner of Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE.

"On Sunday, we brought down the myth that the different ethnic communities in this country can't live together," he said, suggesting the multi-ethnic character of the opposition protest. "What Gruevski's doing over there is trying to bring this myth back to life."

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