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Volatile third night of protests in Macedonia over wiretapping pardon

Opposition protesters have taken to the streets for the third consecutive night in Skopje, incensed over the president's decision to end a probe into a wiretapping scandal involving top political figures.

For a third straight night, thousands of Macedonians took to the streets in the capital of Skopje to protest the president's decision to offer a blanket pardon to more than 50 public figures caught up in a wiretapping scandal.

Opposition protesters, many supporters of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's SDSM party, called for President Gjorge Ivanov's resignation and shouted slogans such as: "No justice, no peace!"

"We will not give up," 53-year-old protester Jasmina Stojkovska Simonovic told news agency AFP, adding she wanted Ivanov to reverse his decision or resign.

A demonstrator in a wheelchair waits in front of anti-riot police in Skopje copyright. Getty Images/AFP/R. Atanasovski

Protests were triggered Tuesday when Ivanov halted the wiretapping probe

On Tuesday, Ivanov announced he had

ended a judicial inquiry into the wiretapping controversy

, in effect granting a mass amnesty to those who had been implicated. It sparked protests and generated condemnation at home and abroad, with the US and EU warning the move could hurt Macedonia's chances of joining the 28-nation bloc.

The protests have since become increasingly volatile. On Wednesday, demonstrations turned violent when protesters

ransacked offices used by the president

, smashing windows and burning furniture.

SDSM chief Zoran Zaev urged protesters to remain peaceful and implored police "not to overstep their powers."

But Ivanov has remained defiant and said in a televised interview Thursday that he was attempting to put an end to a political crisis by ending the probe.

"As president it is my responsibility to end the crisis that has lasted for too long," Ivanov said.

Watch video 00:30

Protests in Skopje turn violent

'Serious concerns'

The crisis began last year when the SDSM accused then Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of corruption by wiretapping about 20,000 people, including journalists and politicians. The government denied the allegations, filing charges of its own against Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempting to destabilize the country.

The initial scandal ignited protests, which led to Gruevski resigning and

new elections called for June 5

. But the opposition plans to boycott the election, fearing electoral fraud.

Ivanov's move to end the probe against 56 people effectively amnesties some top politicians, businessmen, judges and mayors. The list includes Gruevski as well as former Interior Minister Gordana Jankulovska and ex-intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov. Zaev and former SDSM leader and former President Branko Crvenkovski were also on the list, but both have said they would like the investigation to proceed.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Thursday there were "serious concerns" over the pardon.

"This decision risks producing a climate of impunity, undermines the rule of law and years of efforts within the country and by the international community, as well as exacerbating the existing political crisis," said Maja Kocijancic, speaking with reporters.

bw/cmk (dpa, AFP)

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