SKOPJE (Reuters) - Several thousand people rallied in front of the headquarters of Macedonia’s rightist ruling party on Saturday demanding the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and early elections.
The rally was the culmination of days of smaller countrywide protests provoked by an incident last week when the opposition was ejected from the parliament after a disagreement and a brawl over the size of next year’s budget.
“We have already decided, we will go to the end, until we finally win and bring democracy back to this country” Branko Crvenkovski, the head of the opposition Social Democrats, told the cheering crowd.
Last week the government proposed a 148-billion-denari ($3.2 billion) budget for 2013 last month, forecasting a deficit of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product. It put growth next year at 2 percent of GDP.
But the left-wing opposition condemned the budget proposal as profligate at a time of austerity and demanded a cut equivalent to about $260 million. The government refused and the opposition then submitted about a thousand amendments to the draft before tensions flared on Monday.
The government pushed the budget vote with just over half of deputies present, prompting the opposition to initiate a campaign of civil disobedience.
At the rally, Crvenkovski said his party’s backers will maintain protests until the government steps down, paving the way for early elections organized by an independent body.
Parliamentary elections in Macedonia are tentatively slated for 2015.
Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, wants to join the European Union and NATO but it still faces opposition from neighboring Greece which says that its name is a territorial appropriation of the name of a northern Greek province.
The country is also facing tensions between its Macedonian Slav majority and ethnic Albanian minority.
Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Angus MacSwan