Thousands of supporters of North Macedonia's main opposition party VMRO-DPMNE gathered Saturday evening in the center of the capital Skopje to pressure the leftist government to call an election two years before the end of its term.
Center-right VMRO-DPMNE accused the ruling Social Democrat-led government of miring North Macedonia in corruption, devastating the economy and letting public health and education systems deteriorate. It organized Saturday's protest rally under the slogan "It is too much! Protest for change."
"The government is the reason for all our misfortunes and national disappointments. This is a voice against injustice and poor living conditions. There must be a change," opposition leader Hristijan Mickoski told the gathering.
Annual inflation in the small Balkan country of about 1.8 million increased for the ninth straight month in May to reach a 14-year high of 11.9%, up from 10.5% in April. With average monthly wages around 480 euros, trade unions are pressing the government for at least a 10% raise, arguing that current earnings cannot cover basic needs. Food and energy prices have risen 30% to 50% since the beginning of the war in Ukraine in February.
The ruling Social Democrats responded that they oppose early polls and accused VMRO-DPMNE and its leader of protesting solely for "personal and party interests."
"Instead of being constructive and cooperative, Mickoski abuses every important process in an attempt to gain a small political profit," the ruling party said in a statement.
Mickoski said the government is incapable of stopping the daily rise of the cost of living and dealing with deep corruption.
The opposition leader also warned the government that his party "will not accept any humiliating agreement that is detrimental to our national interests." He was referring to a possible deal with Bulgaria that could unblock North Macedonia's bid to join the European Union.
Bulgaria has vetoed consideration of North Macedonia's EU membership bid, asking for a reference to a Bulgarian minority to be included in its constitution, a formal acknowledgment that the Macedonian language has Bulgarian roots and to stamp out allegedly anti-Bulgarian rhetoric. North Macedonia says its identity and language are not open to discussion and that the solution must be based on European values.
The protest ended peacefully.