Macedonians continue anti-government protests
(SKOPJE) - More than 7,000 Macedonians gathered for fresh protests on Saturday, calling for the resignation of conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and early elections to be held in this former Yugoslav republic.
Chanting "Go away, Gruevski!" and "He is finished!", they marched along the central streets of the capital Skopje and whistled in a protest at the seat of the national television which they accused of pro-regime reporting.
Opposition supporters accuse the government of failing to introduce necessary budget cuts to halt a growing economic crisis in the landlocked Balkan country of two million with an unemployment rate of around 31 percent.
Many were bussed in to Skopje from other Macedonian towns for a protest, organised by the opposition left-wing SDSM party which has already called for early elections to be held simultaneously with a local vote.
"We have only one demand, fair and democratic elections. The regime is finished," said SDSM leader Branko Crvenkovski.
But on Friday, officials called local elections for March 24 in Macedonia, in a move seen as rejection of the opposition call for an early legislative vote.
Macedonia has plunged into a tense political crisis as the opposition decided to boycott the parliament after 17 people, including 11 policemen and two deputies, were slightly injured in scuffles over the 2013 budget on December 24.
The opposition staged several anti-government protests in the capital Skopje and other Macedonian towns.
Early parliamentary elections largely won by Gruevski's party were held in June 2011. The SDSM has 29 deputies in the 123-seat assembly.