Protests on streets of Skopje for fourth night after Macedonia confirmed 5 June elections as country grapplings with crisis

Protesters took to the streets of Skopje for the fourth night in a row on Friday after Macedonia corroborated snap 5 June elections as the country grapples with a bitter political crisis.

The date was officially set despite the angry anti-government rallies in protest at President Gjorge Ivanovs decision to halt investigations into more than 50 public figure, including top legislators embroiled in a wire-tapping scandal.

Based on my constitutional and legal authority I today signed the decision to call early elections on June 5 2016, told parliament speaker Trajko Veljanoski.

The early elections, originally concurred for 24 April and then postponed, are part of an EU-brokered agreement to solve the countrys seething political conflict.

But Zoran Zaev, leader of the main opposition SDSM, insisted on Friday that he would boycott the vote, claiming conditions for a free and fair vote were not in place.

Ivanov, however, pledged to push ahead, saying the ballot would be a new chapter for Macedonia.

Thousands of people, principally SDSM advocates, took to the streets again on Friday, demanding Ivanov either rescinded his decision or resign, as well as calling for the election to be postponed.

Police responded by blocking off traffic near parliament and deploying four armoured vehicles and a water cannon.

One placard read: Exchange the president for 10,000 refugees a reference to Europes migrant problem and the fact that Macedonia last month shut its border with Greece where thousands of Syrian and other migrants are camped in squalid conditions as they attempt to reach western Europe.

Macedonias political crisis began in 2015 when the SDSM accused then-prime minister Nikola Gruevski of wiretapping around 20,000 people, including political leaders and journalists, and said the recordings uncovered high-level corruption.

The government denied the accusations and, in response, filed charges against Zaev, accusing him of spying and attempting to destabilise the Balkan country.

Gruevski, who had been “ministers ” since 2006, resigned in January in order to pave the way for early elections.

But tensions surged again on Tuesday when Ivanov announced the halt of judicial investigations into 56 people, including his ally Gruevski still Macedonias more influential political figure.

Others affected by the decision included former interior minister Gordana Jankulovska, ex-intelligence chief Sasho Mijalkov, as well as Zaev and former SDSM leader and ex-president Branko Crvenkovski.

Both sides have said they would rather see the investigation go ahead.

Ivanovs move has sparked disapproval abroad, with the United States and the European Union warning it raised questions about the rule of law in Macedonia and could hurt its aspirations to join the 28 -member EU.

Europe needs a stable FYROM( Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) guided by the rule of law, EU president Donald Tusk tweeted on Friday. The countrys Euro-Atlantic future is at risk.

EU and US representatives met the president on Thursday, but devoted no details about what was discussed.

Mass forgivenes= impunity= obstacle to credible elections, Euro-Atlantic path, US ambassador Jess Baily tweeted after the meeting.

Ivanov has, however, received support from Moscow, which accuses outside forces of provoking the crisis.

The opposition, with outside help, is again used for stirring political conflict with the goal of disturbing the elections, a Russian foreign ministry statement said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, many Macedonians voiced fear over what they see as a fight between the west and Russia over influence.

It is obvious that some are backed by the West and others by Moscow, Ivo Spasovski, a pensioner, told, adding that he hoped Macedonia would not be made to suffer because of big powers and their games.

Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic of 2.1 million people, has been a candidate for EU membership since 2005, but accession talks are yet to start.

Read more: www.theguardian.com