Show of strength comes after opposition supporters accuse PM of corruption, phone tapping and inflaming ethnic tensions.
Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Macedonia’s capital Skopje on Friday for the fourth consecutive night after a presidential pardon called off investigations against dozens of public figures in a wiretapping scandal.
The latest rally came hours after the speaker of parliament announced that early general elections will be held on June 5, despite the opposition warning they will boycott the vote.
President Gjorge Ivanov said in a national address on Friday that he will not reverse his amnesty decision, which prevents 56 government and opposition officials from being prosecuted over revelations of a vast wiretapping operation.
He added that any of the people who had received pardons and wanted to prove their innocence in court could ask for the pardon to be overturned in their case.
Macedonia, a poor Balkan country of two million people, has been in political turmoil since February 2015 when the opposition accused then-Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and his counter-intelligence chief of orchestrating the wiretapping of more than 20,000 people.
The opposition said the recordings revealed government control over journalists, judges, public sector recruitment and the manipulation of elections.
Gruevski, who was prime minister until January, has denied the allegations.
His conservative VMRO-DPMNE party spokesman Ivo Kotevski said on Friday that Gruevski had rejected his pardon and requested Ivanov to withdraw it.
“Our position is clear. Everybody who committed crimes has to be punished,” VMRO said.
The early elections, originally agreed for April 24 and then postponed in February to June 5, are part of an EU-brokered agreement to solve the ongoing political feud.
But Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition SDSM, insisted on Friday that he would boycott the election, claiming that conditions for a free and fair vote were not in place.
Ivanov, however, pledged to push ahead, vowing that the ballot would be a “new chapter for Macedonia”.
The president warned diplomats on Friday to be measured in their response to the pardons.
Ambassadors from EU countries attended a news conference by a special prosecutor in Skopje on Thursday who said she would continue to investigate the wiretap affair.
“I call on the representatives of the international community to be careful in their behaviour and activities and to remind them that they might be misinterpreted,” Ivanov said.
European Council President Donald Tusk warned Macedonia on Friday not to let the political crisis endanger its ties with the European Union and NATO, both of which it aspires to join.