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Anti-government rally in Skopje

Boris Georgievski, SkopjeMay 17, 2015

Tens of thousands gathered in Skopje to call for the resignation of Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. But he promised only larger demonstrations of his government. Boris Georgievski reports from Skopje.

Mazedonien Demonstration in Skopje
Image: Reuters/M. Djurica

After months of deep political crisis created by revelations by the opposition of wiretaps of journalists and judicial officials aimed to show widespread corruption and abuse of power by the conservative government, thousands of people took to the streets in Macedonia in a rare display of ethnic unity.

Macedonian, Albanian and flags from the other ethnic communities were being waved by the some 20,000 people who protested in Skopje.

"Gruevski managed something that no one other Macedonian politician did in the past 24 years of Macedonia's independence," one protester told DW. "He united the people against him."

A call for democracy

People came from across the Balkan country to express their displeasure Gruevski and his government. There were also several reports of protesters being stopped by the police and not allowed to continue to join the protest, which also saw the attendance of some regional and European politicians.

"Many people are not here to support one political party, but to show that they want more democracy," European MEP Richard Howitt told DW.

Since early March, Zoran Zaev, the leader of Macedonia's opposition Social Democrats, has been releasing recorded conversations and other material that has suggested massive wiretapping, widespread corruption and interference in the judiciary and the media by Gruevski and his government.

"These protests were long overdue. This government had no mandate from the citizens to turn the country into a dictatorship, but it has been doing exactly that for the last nine years," Katica Kjulavkova, a famous Macedonian writer and a member of the Macedonian Academy of Science, told DW.

Pro-government rally on Monday

Gruevski said Saturday that he had no intention of resigning or accepting a transitional government. He is also planning a rally to demonstrate public support for his government on Monday. Pro-government media in Macedonia have reported that "100,000 people are mobilized to fiercely defend national and state interests."

Opposition leader Zaev has already said he won't back down either.

"We will not go home until Gruevski resigns," he said. "Some 4,600 activists have decided on their own initiative to sleep out in front of the government building and to continue the protest."

Many protesters carried pictures showing Gruevski and other government ministers as criminals and future prisoners. The protests have been peaceful and many say they will go one in the same manner.

"We have no weapons, only flowers and books," Maida Ahmeti of the student organization that supported the protest told the gathering in Skopje.