SKOPJE - The European Union brokered a deal on Tuesday for early elections in Macedonia, potentially ending months of political turmoil triggered by damaging wiretap disclosures against the government.
The details of the deal, reached after intense negotiations led by EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn, remained unclear, and political sources said the sides would meet again on June 10 in Brussels to agree the specifics.
The political impasse over allegations of widespread government abuse of power had raised fears of instability in a country that flirted with civil war in 2001.
Nine years in power, conservative Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski has been under pressure since January over wiretap disclosures released by opposition leader Zoran Zaev and which the West says have raised serious questions about the state of democracy in the ex-Yugoslav republic, a candidate for EU membership.
Zaev says the wiretaps were collected illegally by the government, targeting 20,000 political figures, journalists and judges, foes and allies alike. They appear to expose tight government control over the media, courts and the conduct of elections.
The government says the tapes were made by a foreign spy service working with Zaev to bring down the government. Zaev has been charged with "violence" against the state.
Emerging from some eight hours of talks with Gruevski, Zaev and leaders of the main parties representing the ethnic Albanian minority, Hahn told reporters they had agreed to "a kind of transitional period" and early elections no later than the end of April 2016.
Gruevski was re-elected last year to a new five-year mandate at the helm of a coalition government with a party of ethnic Albanian former guerrillas who fought an insurgency in 2001.
Hahn gave few details and took no questions, but he said it would be "important to prepare the country" for elections, mentioning in particular changes to the electoral code, respect for minority rights and the independence of the judiciary.
Hahn was flanked by Gruevski and Zaev, neither of whom spoke.
It remained unclear how the deal would resolve the issue of who would organize the early elections, given the opposition's charge that the government stole the last parliamentary poll in early 2014. Zaev wants greater Western oversight.
"Very intense and difficult day but the most important thing is that the deal was finally reached between the four leaders", Artan Grubi, a spokesman for Ali Ahmeti, Gruevski's ethnic Albanian coalition partner, wrote on Facebook.