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Macedonian Political Leaders Meet in Response to Crisis

A man on a bicycle passes by tents, posted by the opposition supporters, in front of the government building in Skopje, Macedonia, May 19, 2015.

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and main opposition leader Zoran Zaev began talks mediated by European Union officials Tuesday in an attempt to find a solution to the crisis in the country.

Rival political groups camped in the capital Skopje ahead of the meeting in Strasbourg, France.

Under European Union pressure, leaders of the four main political parties — two Macedonian and two Albanian (Nikola Gruevski, Zoran Zaev, Ali Ahmeti, Menduh Thaci) — met Monday, but the 90-minute talks did not result in a breakthrough.

The United States, European Union and NATO have called for calm, saying they are following the developments closely.

The United States has called on all sides of the Macedonian conflict to “respect the rights of freedom of assembly and the peaceful protest” and refrain from violence.

US reaction

U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Monday American and European partners have urged Macedonian authorities "to make progress toward accounting for allegations of government wrongdoing that arise from the recent disclosures" of wire-tapping.

The United States has also urged the opposition party to return to parliament to participate in the inquiry of those disclosures.

Pressure on Gruevski has been building since a wire-tapping scandal broke earlier this year, prompting questions about how tightly the government controls the media, judges, and elections during his nine years in power.

Zaev, the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia has vowed the demonstrations would continue until the prime minister steps down.

The protests come a week after tensions flared north of the capital. Clashes between gunmen and police in the city of Kumanovo earlier this month killed eight police and 14 assailants.

Macedonian authorities have said the gunmen were trying to cause chaos and fear, but Albanian sources in the country said authorities instigated the clash to save the Gruevski government.

Macedonia narrowly avoided a 2001 civil war, when an ethnic Albanian armed uprising demanded greater political rights. The insurgency lasted for months before a cease-fire was reached.

VOA's Macedonian Service contributed to this report. Some information was provided by AFP.

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