SKOPJE - Macedonia's opposition leader released a fresh batch of wire-taps on Friday that he said proved the government rigged elections, pursuing a surveillance scandal that has rocked the Balkan country since January.
It was the seventh batch of what Social Democrat leader Zoran Zaev -- charged by police in January with plotting to bring down the government -- says is evidence of a huge, illegal surveillance operation under the nine-year conservative tenure of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
Gruevski has dismissed the accusations, but the West is watching closely to see how the government handles the unfolding scandal. The former Yugoslav republic is trying to join the European Union and NATO.
“We are beginning to unmask the electoral theft carried out by Nikola Gruevski and some of his associates,” Zaev told a news conference. “You will hear how this group is rigging and stealing elections in Macedonia.”
He aired more than a dozen audio tapes and identified the voices as those of several cabinet ministers discussing issuing false identification papers, pressure on farmers, pensioners and other social groups in elections.
A voice Zaev identified as Gruevski's is heard asking one of his ministers how to secure a second round in one municipality, apparently during local elections in 2013.
Zaev's Social Democrats have been boycotting parliament for almost a year since alleging fraud in the last general election.
Gruevski has said the wire taps are the work of a foreign spy agency, which has colluded with Zaev to publish them and destabilize the country.
Zaev denied the charges and days later began to air audio tapes from what he says is a government surveillance operation targeting 20,000 people, including politicians, religious figures and journalists.
Zaev has used the tapes to accuse the government so far of exerting control over the justice system and pressure on the media.