Protests after Macedonia snap elections set for June

Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January in order to pave the way for early elections.

Skopje: Protesters took to the streets of Skopje for the fourth night in a row, after Macedonia confirmed snap June 5 elections as the country grapples with a bitter political crisis.

The date was officially set despite the angry anti-government rallies in protest at President Gjorge Ivanov's decision to halt probes into more than 50 public figures, including top politicians embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal.

"Based on my constitutional and legal authority... I today signed the decision to call early elections... On June 5, 2016," parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski said in a statement.

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 country's seething political feud.

But Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition SDSM, insisted yesterday that he would boycott the vote, 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".

Thousands of people, mainly SDSM supporters, took to the streets again yesterday, demanding Ivanov either revoke his decision or resign, as well as calling for the election to be postponed.

Police responded by blocking off traffic near parliament and deploying four armoured vehicles and a water cannon.

One placard read: "Exchange the president for 10,000 refugees" -- a reference to Europe's migrant problem and the fact that Macedonia last month closed its border with Greece where thousands of Syrian and other migrants are camped in squalid conditions as they attempt to reach Western Europe.

An AFP reporter witnessed no serious incidents before the crowds on the streets dispersed in the evening.

Macedonia's political crisis began last year when the SDSM accused then-prime minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping around 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the recordings revealed high-level corruption.

The government denied the accusations and, in response, filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempting to "destabilise" the Balkan country.

Gruevski, who had been prime minister since 2006, resigned in January in order to pave the way for early elections.