Macedonian PM offers resignation for early elections

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)

Skopje (AFP) - Macedonia's Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski handed in his resignation Friday, paving the way for an early election in April in line with an EU-brokered deal to end a political crisis.

The move came as European Commissioner Johannes Hahn arrived in Skopje to encourage political parties to stick to the agreement reached in July last year, which was designed to end months of turmoil in the Balkan nation of about 2.1 million people.

According to the deal between the government and opposition, Gruevksi was required to hand power to a caretaker government at least 100 days ahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for April 24.

But the date of the polls has not been officially called, and Gruevski said in a televised address late Thursday that his resignation would only take effect "100 days before the elections".

The date of the vote is set to be a crucial point of discussion for Hahn, particularly as main opposition leader Zoran Zaev has said that conditions have not yet been met for fresh polls.

"The imperative of the agreement is to have a crystal-clear electoral and pre-election process and that must be fulfilled," Zaev said late Thursday.

A parliamentary source confirmed to AFP that Gruevski had handed in his letter of resignation.

His VMRO-DPMNE party has nominated its general secretary Emil Dimitriev as an interim premier until the new parliamentary election.

After Macedonia's last vote in 2014, won by the VMRO-DPMNE, Zaev's Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM) boycotted parliament saying the polls had been marred by fraud.

Last year the crisis deepened when the SDSM accused Gruevski of wiretapping around 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, and said the tapes revealed high-level corruption.

The government denied the accusations and in return filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempts to "destabilise" the country.

Thousands of supporters on both sides took to the streets of Skopje in protest.

The ex-Yugoslav republic faced further turmoil in May last year, when police in northern Macedonia clashed with an ethnic Albanian armed group whose members were mostly from Kosovo.

Eighteen people were killed in the clashes, including eight police officers.

Macedonia has been in a decade-long stalemate in the process of accession to both the European Union and NATO due to a veto by Greece, which claims a historical right to the name Macedonia.