Reuters International

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov shake hands with Croatian and Slovenian police officers deployed at Macedonian south border with Greece in Gevgelija, Macedonia, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

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By Kole Casule

SKOPJE (Reuters) - President Gjorge Ivanov on Monday revoked pardons he had granted to 34 officials implicated in a wire-tapping scandal that has rocked Macedonia, meeting demands from the opposition, the European Union and the United States.

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

Ivanov's decision in April to pardon 56 officials prosecuted over their involvement in the scandal drew nationwide protests that led to the cancellation of an election set for June 5.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital Skopje every evening, marching from the special prosecutor's office to the government building to support opposition demands to revoke the pardons.

Under international pressure, the EU-candidate country's parliament last month passed legislation that enabled Ivanov to revoke his decision to pardon 22 politicians on May 27.

It was unclear whether Gruevski, leader of the ruling party, or Zoran Zaev, the most prominent opposition figure, were among that group.

But on Monday Ivanov issued a brief statement saying he had cancelled the pardons of the other 34 people. "In the past 10 days we have been witnesses of different interpretations of the decision to pardon ... therefore I have decided to annul the remaining decision for pardoning."

Both the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party and Zaev's Social Democrats welcomed Ivanov's decision.

"The Social Democrats led by Zoran Zaev won another victory today," the party said in a statement issued on Monday evening.

On Monday, thousands who demonstrated in Skopje welcomed Ivanov's decision, but protest leaders said the marches would continue until conditions for free and fair elections are met.

Last week, the Macedonian parliament began a procedure for Ivanov's impeachment at the request of opposition parties, an initiative unlikely to succeed because they cannot secure the required two-thirds majority in the legislature.

(Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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