Thousands rally to demand resignation of Macedonia's Prime Minister

People wave Macedonian flags and raise their hands during an anti-government protest in downtown Skopje on May 17.

Story highlights

  • As many as 10,000 anti-government protesters rally In Macedonia Sunday
  • Protesters want Prime Minister to resign over a wire-tap scandal
  • Last week gun battles left eight police officers and 14 others dead

(CNN)The atmosphere was festive, but the undertones gravely serious as thousands of protesters gathered in Macedonia's capital demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

The protesters -- who paraded through Skopje waving Macedonia's vibrant red and yellow flag -- seek Gruevski's ouster over a wiretapping scandal that the opposition claims takes government abuse to new levels.
Those alleged abuses include instances of "...financial and electoral fraud, mass electronic surveillance, framing of political opponents for crimes and even murder," according to Foreign Affairs, a magazine published by the Council on Foreign Relations.
While Gruevski denies the allegations, the scandal has plunged the Balkan country into its worst political crisis since the threat of civil war in 2001. Gruevski claims most of the wiretapped recordings were made by an unnamed foreign intelligence service in an effort to bring his government down.
Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev, who called for Sunday's demonstrations, has accused the government of inciting ethnic conflict. In early May the Gruevski government indicted Zaev on charges of wiretapping and anti-government activities, according to the New York Times. Zaev has periodically been releasing leaked transcripts of what he claims are thousands of recordings made by the government, detailing instances of alleged corruption. He was indicted shortly before announcing plans for Sunday's massive protest in Skopje.
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The protests in Macedonia may only be the beginning of the threat to stability in the Balkans.
Last week, gun battles in the Balkan city of Kumanovo, about 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from Skopje, left eight police officers and 14 others dead. The country's internal affairs ministry described the targets of the police raid that resulted in the gun battles as a group of roughly "70 terrorists." Macedonian authorities accused the group of plotting attacks on government institutions.