‘No bowing down’: Thousands of pro-govt protesters rally for Macedonian PM

Supporters of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski take part in a rally in Skopje, Macedonia May 18, 2015. (Reuters/Ognen Teofilovski)
Tens of thousands of demonstrators came together to show their support for Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Monday. The rally follows mass anti-government protests, whose opponents claim are being funded and instigated from abroad.

Around 30,000 people came out in Macedonia’s capital, Skopje, to participate in a pro-Gruevski demonstration that gathered outside the parliament building. Some estimates put the number as high as 90,000.

Taking to the stage, Gruevski affirmed that he will not be stepping down. “No surrender, no bowing down! ... Dark forces will not succeed,” the prime minister told his supporters, while admitting some “mistakes and omissions.”

“We are open for talks [with political opponents] but we will not allow a solution which is against the free will of the majority of citizens,” he said.

Gruevski once again accused the opposition of getting its support from foreign entities: “Macedonia does not need a political leadership that places itself in the service of a foreign intelligence service.”

“This man will not be prime minister,” he said referring to the Opposition Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev. “His five minutes are up.”

Supporters of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski hold a Macedonian flag during a rally in Skopje, Macedonia, May 18, 2015. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

One of the activists who came to the rally said she is here to “defend” her country. “It’s time we stand up against this dark foreign scenario. Zaev doesn’t even realize he’s just a puppet,” a protester named Snezana told Reuters.

While pro-government supporters rallied, around 1,000 opposition protesters gathered outside Gruevski’s offices just two kilometers (1.5 miles) away. The activists have set up a camp, heeding Zaev’s call not to disperse until Gruevski steps down. An election is not due in Macedonia until 2018.

“I will stay here until Gruevski steps down,” protester Sime Kardanovski told AFP.

READ MORE: Thousands rally in Macedonia amid unfolding political crisis (DRONE VIDEO)

The massive show of support for the prime minister was in response to Sunday’s anti-government march in the capital, which saw over 20,000 people calling for Gruevski’s resignation. These demonstrations come amid accusations of corruption and recent ethnic clashes involving militants from Kosovo in the ex-Yugoslav republic.

If Gruevski does not resign, “Macedonia will face a war, just like Ukraine,” Zaev threatened over the weekend, as quoted by RIA Novosti.

One of the NGOs that attended the anti-government rally over the weekend said it has made “contributions” to the opposition movement.

“The organization has these contributions to the developments in Macedonia right now,” head of Open Society Foundations (OSF) Vladimir Milcin told RT’s In The Now host Anissa Naouai. OSF is a global organization which supports various political movements and is funded by the US hedge fund billionaire George Soros.

“Foundation is supporting freedom of media, so the small islands which have remained because big media are completely controlled by the government. We support NGOs and informal civic initiatives,” Milcin said. “This is not a revolution, this is a peaceful protest and I hope it will not end as in Ukraine with bloodshed.”

Some analysts have also pointed to foreign connections when it comes to the opposition movement.

“Peeling back a layer we know that organizing protest does not happen on its own. In this case we know much of the organization has been taking place by external forces, from NGOs that are originating from other countries. In this case, perhaps the US. There are legitimate grievances of course, but there is a concern that these may be exploited,” activist and political analyst Joaquin Flores told Anissa Naouai.

Back in February, Zaev released illegally gathered wiretaps which allegedly exposed the government in breaking democratic rules. The prime minister refuted the allegations, saying the tapes had been doctored.

READ MORE: Sniper fire, explosions: 8 Macedonian police dead after clashes in Albanian district

Tensions in Macedonia intensified this May, with the country witnessing the worst violence since 2001, after clashes between ethnic Albanian militants and Macedonian police in the town of Kumanovo near the Kosovo border left some 20 people dead, including eight police officers.

Following the incident, at least 30 people, most of them Kosovar Albanians, were charged in connection with the attack. Around 25 to 30 percent of Macedonia’s population is Albanian.

The ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) militant group, a Kosovo Liberation Army offshoot, began attacking security forces in Macedonia back in 2001, demanding greater rights and autonomy for the country’s Albanian minority. NATO responded by dispatching 3,500 troops to the region.