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Macedonia PM accused of taking EUR 20m bribe

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(SKOPJE) - Macedonian opposition leader Zoran Zaev on Thursday accused conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski of accepting a 20-million-euro ($22-million) bribe from Chinese firms to grant them motorways construction concessions.

"This is one of the biggest corruption scandals not only in our country but in the whole region," Zaev, head of the main opposition SDSM party, told a press conference.

Zaev accused Gruevski of awarding the construction of two highway sections to Chinese firms without a tender.

The total value of works carried out on the western Kicevo-Ohrid highway and the eastern Miladinovci-Stip motorway was estimated at 570 million euros, Zaev said.

The deal was backed by parliament last October.

Recent bitter exchanges between the government and the opposition have pushed the former Yugoslav republic into a deep political crisis this year.

In January, the government filed a complaint against Zaev and several other people for espionage and violence against officials.

The opposition leader rejected the allegations and in turn accused the government of wiretapping at least 20,000 people, including politicians, journalists and religious leaders.

Earlier this month, Zaev called on the prime minister to resign, form an interim government and organise "fair and democratic" early elections.

European Union officials have expressed concern over the "deteriorated political dialogue" in Macedonia, and called for a thorough investigation.

Zaev has previously said the crisis could not be resolved "without interference of the international community".

Meanwhile, local media reported that government and opposition representatives were expected to hold EU-mediated talks on Monday in Brussels to address the crisis.

The Socialists have been boycotting the Macedonian parliament for almost a year, alleging electoral fraud during early polls held in April 2014.

The next parliamentary elections are due in 2018.

The Balkan country obtained EU candidate status in 2005, but is yet to begin accession talks.

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