September 3, 2014 / 4:08 PM / 5 years ago

Macedonia court says opposition leader slandered prime minister

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia’s main opposition leader was found guilty of slander on Wednesday for insulting Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski in a high-profile court case that may deepen political divisions in the small Balkan country.

Leader of Macedonian opposition party SDSM Zoran Zaev speaks during a press conference at party headquarters in Skopje April 27, 2014. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Zoran Zaev, leader of the biggest opposition party, the SDSM, was sued by Gruevski after he accused the prime minister of taking a bribe in the 2004 sale of a local bank to a Serbian businessman.

“The court has decided to accept the complaint from Nikola Gruevski and declare Zoran Zaev guilty of slander,” the Skopje county court said in its ruling.

It ordered Zaev to pay 50,000 euros to Gruevski for damaging his reputation.

Zaev made the allegations during a campaign for the general election in March that handed Gruevski and his conservative VMRO-DPMNE party a fourth straight term in office.

The opposition immediately accused the government of rigging the vote and decided to boycott parliament and all state institutions. Gruevski and his party have rejected all accusations.

As a condition for returning to parliament, the SDSM has demanded that a “technical government” calls a new election and that the courts take seriously the bribe accusations against Gruevski.

Recent talks between the two parties to resolve the political deadlock failed to produce any results.

Gruevski said Zaev had launched an “intensive and aggressive media campaign” based on lies, while Zaev told the court he had acted “as a law-abiding citizen”, after receiving information about the bribe he thought was credible.

The Balkan country of two million people is one of Europe’s poorest, with an unemployment rate of 27 percent and an average monthly net salary of 350 euros (280 pounds).

Reporting by Kole Casule, Writing by Zoran Radosavljevic, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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