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Macedonia's party leaders fail to resolve political crisis

The leaders of Macedonia's four main political parties met on Monday in an encounter aimed at defusing a political crisis that has seen large pro- and anti-government rallies in the country's capital, Skopje.

A pro-government rally took place outside the parliament building on Monday, with an estimated 30,000 people turning out in response to an

opposition march the previous day

.

The crisis, related to a wiretapping scandal in which both sides have accused each other of snooping, had prompted the European Union to press for talks among the country's main political leaders.

Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski attended the talks along with opposition leader Zoran Zaev and two ethnic Albanian political leader, Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci.

Leaving the meeting, Zaev - leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) - said the impasse would not be resolved until Gruevski's government resigns to make way for a caretaker government ahead of "fair, transparent" elections. Zaev has insisted that Gruevski should not be part of the government.

"We have not opened talks on any issue, because we first need to solve certain things," Zaev told reporters.

The

meeting took place behind closed doors

, mediated by the US and EU, and the four leaders are due to meet again on May 26. Ahmeti's Democratic Union for Integration is a junior partner of Gruevski's Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO), and Thaci's Democratic Party of Albanians is in the opposition.

Meeting in Strasbourg

Gruevski and Zaev are also due to meet in France on Tuesday, at talks under the mediation of European parliamentarians in Strasbourg.

As the talks were held Monday, government opponents remained in place with a camp in front of the government headquarters. The demonstrators have said they will not leave the camp until Gruevski resigns.

A counter-rally called by Gruevski to demonstrate that he still had popular support attracted some 30,000 people, according to an AFP count. Many of those arriving were said to have done so in columns of buses organized from elsewhere in the country.

Gruevski, who has been in power since 2006, has dismissed the wiretapping allegations and hit back at Zaev with charges that he collaborated with an unnamed foreign intelligence service.

Among the fears of an ongoing political crisis is the possibility of increased social and ethnic tensions in the country of 2.1 million people.

rc/cmk (AP, AFP, dpa)

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