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Macedonia's Wiretapping Scandal Worsens Political Tensions

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Ever since Yugoslavia dissolved in ethnic violence in the 1990s, a crisis in the Balkans makes the West nervous. Macedonia is a tiny republic that emerged from that breakup relatively stable. Now, though, that is in question over a big wiretapping scandal that could bring down Macedonia's government. Joanna Kakissis reports from the capital, Skopje.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Scores of tents are pitched across from the gleaming, white, neoclassical building which houses the prime minister's office. The hundreds of protesters here say they will camp out, Occupy Wall Street-style, until Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski leaves. One is law student Ana Shumanska.

ANA SHUMANSKA: This protest is our last hope because the institutions are so corrupted.

KAKISSIS: On Sunday night, tens of thousands of people surrounded this building, demanding the resignation of Gruevski, the conservative who has run this country for the last nine years. They say Gruevski's government has paid off judges, rigged votes and framed political opponents for crimes. A leftist opposition leader, Zoran Zaev, says it's all on tape. He released 670,000 secretly recorded conversations from 20,000 Macedonian phone numbers. Shumanska says the government is spying on its own citizens.

SHUMANSKA: I think that they have done it because they want to know everything that is going on just because that's the only way that they could control and own us. That's the scariest part; they own us.

KAKISSIS: Emiljiana Janovsky, another anti-government protester, says Gruevski has failed to lift the country out of poverty.

EMILJIANA JANOVSKY: People are afraid, and second of all, we are broke.

KAKISSIS: But the private minister attracted an equally large crowd of supporters last night at a rally across town. He told them he had saved Macedonia's economy. Vlado Najdovski, a public transportation worker, says his loyalty lies with only one politician.

VLADO NAJDOVSKI: (Through interpreter) Obviously to the prime minister, only to the Prime Minister - nobody else. I don't think there's any other option in the country. He's absolutely the best option for this country.

KAKISSIS: Najdovski says the prime minister created jobs and improved social welfare. And he does not believe the revelations in the wiretapping.

NAJDOVSKI: (Through interpreter) It's all a lie. It's all edited. It's all a setup. It's a scam.

KAKISSIS: Macedonia has been independent only since 1991. In 2001, the country almost dissolved into civil war between Macedonians and ethnic Albanian insurgents. Over beers after the rally, political science professor Zhidas Daskalovski says he hopes this young democracy will keep its political arguments peaceful.

ZHIDAS DASKALOVSKI: Obviously the institutions of the country, we have to investigate any criminal wrongdoing. But at the end, this should be something which is done with a lot of sensitivity to the future of the stability of the country.

KAKISSIS: The European Parliament has invited the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to Strasbourg for talks, an effort to keep Macedonia from going the violent way of other former Yugoslav republics. For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Skopje, Macedonia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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