Macedonian poll winner in court ahead of incitement trial

December 16, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — The winner of recent parliamentary elections in Macedonia appeared before a criminal court Friday in a hearing ahead of trial for allegedly inciting his conservative party’s supporters to violence.

Former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, his former transport minister and 12 others have been charged over the violence during a 2013 demonstration outside the capital’s central municipal offices. They will stand trial Feb. 22.

The Skopje court decided not to accept key prosecution evidence from a recorded conversation in which Gruevski allegedly urged his minister to “find someone to slap” the mayor, an opposition member.

The tapes were released by Macedonia’s main opposition party as evidence of a massive wiretapping scandal. That triggered a deep political crisis and led to Sunday’s early election, which Gruevski’s conservatives won, although they failed to gain a governing majority in parliament.

However, he is expected to form a coalition with his former junior government partner, a party representing Macedonia’s ethnic Albanian minority.

The opposition accuses Gruevski of orchestrating the surveillance of 20,000 people, including judges, police, journalists and politicians. Gruevski denies any involvement, blaming foreign spies.

Nobody was hurt in the 2013 demonstration in Skopje, during which hundreds of conservative party supporters smashed windows in the municipality building and knocked down its metal fence.

The protest was against the mayor’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to block a major project by Gruevski to revamp the city center, building patriotic monuments inspired by the country’s past.