Macedonia opposition leader accuses PM of mass wire-tapping

Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev has accused the government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

AFP| Updated: Feb 10, 2015, 17:38 PM IST

Skopje: Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev has accused the government of wiretapping 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

Zaev`s claims are the latest salvo in a festering dispute between the centre-left leader and the conservative government which last month accused him of espionage. 

"We have evidence that at least 20,000 people were wiretapped. Today we filed a complaint against the head of the intelligence service and other people involved," Zaev told reporters late Monday.

He dismissed allegations he had threatened Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski with the release of transcripts from potentially damaging telephone conversations unless he stepped down -- a move that would trigger new elections.

The claims against him, Zaev said, were a government ploy to prevent the "spread of evidence of its criminal activities".

Gruevski announced in late January that the government had filed a complaint against Zaev and several other people for espionage and violence against officials.

"He (Zaev) told me... he had collected, in cooperation with certain foreign intelligence services, transcripts of telephone conversations of almost all the country`s leaders," Gruevski told reporters at the time.

"I refuse to accept threats, blackmail and all those types of things."

No charges have yet been brought although police have arrested three suspects, including former intelligence chief Zoran Verusevski, over the affair.

The European Union, which Macedonia is seeking to join, has voiced alarm over the "deterioration of political dialogue" in the Balkan state.

It called in a statement last month for an impartial and transparent probe into what it described as "very serious" allegations against Zaev.

Zaev allegedly made his threats late last year during meetings with Gruevski, who has been in power in the landlocked nation of two million people since 2006.

The opposition leader`s centre-left Social Democrats (SDSM) have boycotted parliament since snap elections in April, alleging fraud in the vote that saw Gruevski`s VMRO-DPMNE party win a majority.

Zaev had warned publicly that he intended to reveal information about the government that would have the impact of a "bomb".

The country has been governed in a delicate power-sharing arrangement between Macedonians and ethnic Albanians since the end of a seven-month conflict in 2001 between the country`s armed forces and ethnic Albanian rebels.

The former Yugoslav republic was granted EU candidate status in 2005, but has yet to obtain a date for the start of accession talks.