Thousands protest in Macedonia demanding PM's resignation

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Ethnic Albanians wave flags and carry banners during a march in Skopje, Macedonia on June 13, 2015

Ethnic Albanians wave flags and carry banners during a march in Skopje, Macedonia on June 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Robert Atanasovski)

Skopje (AFP) - Several thousand people protested in Macedonia's capital Skopje on Saturday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, AFP reporters said, with negotiations over the country's deep political crisis in a deadlock.

Organised by the "Besa" protest movement, which is dominated by Macedonia's Albanian minority, the protesters also called for the resignation of Ali Ahmeti, leader of the main Albanian party DUI, which is allied to Gruevski's conservatives.

Macedonia's leaders agreed this month to hold elections in early 2016 in order to overcome a crisis that has embroiled the country for months.

Opposition socialists have been boycotting parliament, claiming electoral fraud and refusing to recognise the results of polls held last year.

In addition, the centre-left opposition accuses Gruevski of wiretapping some 20,000 people, including politicians and journalists, as well as of corruption, a murder cover-up and other wrongdoings.

Gruevski's government, in return, has filed charges against socialist leader Zoran Zaev, accusing him of "spying" and attempts to "destabilise" the country.

The crisis further deepened last month when police clashed with an ethnic Albanian armed group, whose members were mostly from Kosovo, in the northern town of Kumanovo. Eighteen people were killed in the clashes, including eight police officers.

Fearing a repeat of a six-month conflict in 2001 between Macedonian armed forces and ethnic Albanians demanding more rights for their community, the international community stepped in after the Kumanovo incident and initiated political talks among political leaders.

But talks in Brussels this week broke up without a deal, with EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn saying he was "very disappointed about lack of responsibility and leadership by some".

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. Athens denies its neighbour the use of the name Macedonia, claiming to have a historical right to it.