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Thousands participate in anti-government rally in Macedonia

Tens of thousands of people are marching in Skopje, demanding that Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski step down. Gruevski's government is accused of illegally tapping the phones of journalists, judges and other officials.

Opposition protestors waved Macedonian and Albanian flags, crying "victory, victory" as they marched. Some demonstrators were reportedly going to camp on the streets until Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski stepped down. The conservative prime minister was however planning his own rally on Monday, raising concerns of confrontation between opposing groups.

Gruevski's government was at the center of a scandal that broke out in February this year, when a whistleblower leaked the government's illegal wiretaps to Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev.

The tapes contained data drawn from around 20,000 journalists, politicians, religious leaders and politicians across the country and pointed towards Skopje keeping close watch over the people recorded. The conversations purported to reveal corruption at the highest levels in the government. The Social Democrats have boycotted parliament since an election in April last year, claiming that Gruevski's party committed fraud.

Mazedonien Regierungskrise Rede Premiminister Gruevski im Parlament

Tough times for Prime Minister Gruevski

The Macedonian prime minister has not denied that the voices in the tapes released by Zaev are authentic, but he has refused to acknowledge that he ordered the recordings and maintained instead that the conversations were taken out of context. His officials in turn have accused Zaev of spying and destabilizing the country.

Macedonia's Albanian problem

Skopje's problems have intensified after a shootout earlier this month between police and ethnic Albanian rebels in the country's northern town Kumanovo left 18 people dead, including eight police officers.

Gruevski has held talks with opposition leader Zaev and ethnic Albanian representatives to resolve the crisis, which could hamper the country's inclusion into the EU and the NATO. Ethnic Albanians make up around 25 percent of Macedonia's population.

Two ministers and Skopje's intelligence chief have resigned

after being accused of involvement in the wiretapping scandal while 30 others, including ethnic Albanians from Kosovo,

have been charged with inciting terror.

Experts, however, believe that the public may not accept this as a solution and that the stage is being set for a larger anti-government coalition. The government has promised large rallies in its support on Monday.

mg/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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