Reuters International

SKOPJE (Reuters) - A former Macedonian prime minister denied demolishing a building owned by a political opponent when he appeared in court on Friday and accused the public prosecutor of launching proceedings against him on the orders of the opposition.

The charges were said to have emerged from wiretaps that the ex-prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, himself was alleged to have authorised and which triggered a year-long political crisis.

In an EU-brokered deal last year, Macedonia's political parties agreed to hold an early election and also agreed that a special prosecutor should investigate the allegations that Gruevski and close allies authorised eavesdropping operations on more than 20,000 people.

In one of the wiretap recordings, Gruevski was alleged to have conspired with the transport minister to arrange the demolition of a building owned by a member of a smaller opposition party.

Following his first testimony before the judge during pre-trial proceedings, Gruevski said the allegations were false and accused the office of the special prosecutor who launched the action of taking orders from the opposition.

He told reporters that proceedings represented "political persecution" by the opposition aimed at avoiding electoral defeat.

Gruevski stepped down in January as part of the EU-brokered deal, paving the way for early elections to be held.

In April, President Gjorge Ivanov pardoned 56 officials, including Gruevski, over their involvement in the scandal. Nationwide protests broke out, leading to the cancellation of an election set for June 5.

But on Monday Ivanov bowed to the European Union, the United States and opposition demands and revoked his pardons. That move allowed the court to compel Gruevski to testify.

Both Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party and the Social Democrats, the biggest opposition party, agree that snap elections would be a way out of the crisis. But the Social Democrats say free and fair elections are not possible unless voter lists are updated and media freedom is guaranteed.

(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac)

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