April 16, 2015 / 5:23 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. steps up pressure on Macedonia over allegations of abuse of power

SKOPJE (Reuters) - The United States called on Macedonia on Thursday to investigate possible evidence of “abuse of power” brought to light by leaked wire-taps that the opposition says demonstrate extensive government control over judges, journalists and elections.

The call, made by a visiting State Department official, stepped up diplomatic pressure on the conservative government of Nikola Gruevski to address the content of wire-taps being released by an opposition leader, who says he was given them by a whistleblower in the intelligence service.

Police have charged the opposition Social Democrat leader, Zoran Zaev, with conspiring with a foreign spy service to topple the government.

Hoyt Yee, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, said authorities were obliged to examine the content of the tapes, which purport to include conversations conducted by Gruevski, cabinet ministers and security chiefs, as well as journalists, judges and religious figures.

The government has not explicitly confirmed or denied the identity of the voices on the tapes, but has disputed their reliability as evidence of any wrongdoing. It also denies being behind the wire-taps.

Hoyt said that, while it was important to address the question of responsibility for the wire-taps and their release, “there are also questions raised about the possibility of abuse of government power which also need to be addressed”.

“These issues demand answers and they demand accountability,” Hoyt told reporters after meeting Gruevski.

“We have urged the government and its institutions to take the allegations, insinuations of malfeasance, of possible illegal behavior, very seriously, at least as seriously as the government is taking the charges against Zaev, the leader of the opposition.”

He cited information about “possible official corruption, possible inappropriate government influence over the media, over the judiciary and possible electoral abuse, and other abuses of power”. Gruevski did not address reporters after the meeting.

The opposition says the tapes expose an autocratic shift in Macedonia under Gruevski, who has been in power since mid-2006.

The West’s ability to encourage reform and the strengthening of democracy, a policy pursued across the Western Balkans, has been stunted in Macedonia by the fact that its bids to join the European Union and NATO have been blocked for years by a dispute with neighboring Greece over Macedonia’s name.

Three members of the European Parliament are trying to help mediate a solution to the crisis, but both the government and opposition say they want a more high-profile intervention.

Diplomats fear political instability may harm Macedonia’s fragile inter-ethnic peace, barely 15 years after it narrowly avoided civil war during fighting between government forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas.

Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Alison Williams

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