Macedonia president halts wiretapping inquiry

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov. Photo: 12 April 2016 Image copyright AP
Image caption President Gjorge Ivanov said he wanted to "put an end to the agony" ahead of June's elections

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has issued a pardon to all politicians embroiled in a big corruption scandal that sparked a major political crisis.

He also cancelled an investigation into claims of abuse of power revealed by covert recordings, saying he wanted to "put an end to the agony" ahead of early elections in June.

But his move was condemned both by the opposition and by EU officials.

Macedonia has been in turmoil since the recordings were released in 2015.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A crowd of several hundred held a protest rally in the capital Skopje

In a televised address on Tuesday, President Ivanov said he acted to "defend national interests".

"I've decided to put an end to the agony and, metaphorically speaking, to cut a knot,'' he said, without referring to any politicians by name.

Opposition leader Zoran Zaev said the move was illegal, urging protesters to gather in the capital Skopje. A crowd of several hundred people later gathered outside the prosecutor's office.

Meanwhile, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said: "Today's actions of President Ivanov are not in line with my understanding of rule of law."

Mr Hahn added that the move put Macedonia's EU membership ambitions at risk.

The crisis was sparked by covert recordings which appear to show ministers plotting vote-rigging and the cover-up of a murder.

Mr Zaev has been releasing a steady stream of recordings since February 2015, accusing the government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

He says that scores of leaked recordings reveal corruption at the highest levels of government, including the mismanagement of funds, dubious criminal prosecutions of opponents and even cover-ups of killings.

The government denies the accusations, and in return has accused Mr Zaev of trying to "destabilise" the Balkan nation.

He rejects the claim.

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