January 15, 2016 / 11:22 AM / 3 years ago

Macedonia PM offers resignation, EU tries to keep election accord alive

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski submitted his resignation to parliament on Friday as the European Union tried to keep alive a deal to end months of political crisis.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski leave after the news conference in Skopje January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

On the ropes for much of 2015 over a slew of damaging phone-tap revelations, Gruevski wrote to the speaker of parliament offering his resignation under a timeline agreed with the EU for early parliamentary elections.

EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, who mediated the deal in June 2015, arrived in Skopje, amid concern that the opposition may seek to postpone the election, pencilled in but not officially called for April 24.

Parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski said he would await the outcome of talks between Hahn and political leaders before putting the resignation to a vote in the assembly.

The ruling VMRO-DPMNE nominated party secretary general Emil Dimitriev, an ally of Gruevski, as caretaker prime minister until the election.

Almost a decade in power, Gruevski’s government was bombarded last year by allegations of illegal surveillance, meddling in the media and judiciary, rigging elections and appointing party faithful to public sector jobs.

The accusations stemmed from a slew of phone-taps released by the opposition Social Democrats, who said the government conducted the surveillance. Gruevski denied this and dismissed the accusations as a plot to bring him down.

“Bearing in mind the political obligations undertaken by political parties according to the (EU-brokered) deal of June 2, 2015, I will follow the outcome of today’s talks, mediated by the international community,” parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski said in a statement.

Hahn was expected to meet separately with Gruevski and opposition leader Zoran Zaev, before bringing them and other political leaders together for talks.

Zaev has argued that not all tenets of the deal have been fulfilled, including a thorough review of the electoral list and a media reform to reduce government influence.

Analysts say Gruevski’s determination for the election to go ahead as planned indicates he is confident his VMRO-DPMNE party will win again.

His critics accuse Gruevski of presiding over an increasingly authoritarian government that has burnished nationalism among Macedonians in the absence of any progress towards membership of the EU or NATO, a process held hostage to a long-running dispute with neighbouring Greece over Macedonia’s name.

The government has dismissed the criticism.

Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Toby Chopra

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