Macedonia's opposition parties walked out of Parliament on Friday, starting an indefinite boycott of the legislature to protest the court-ordered freezing of the bank account belonging to the country's most influential private TV station.
The move was mainly symbolic, with opposition parties holding 38 of Parliament's 120 seats. But it highlights the growing dissatisfaction in Macedonia, one of Europe's poorest nations. The main opposition Social Democrats have been calling for months for early elections, a call rejected by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.
"Gruevski now has the parliament as he had always wanted _ without opposition," Social Democrat leader Branko Crvenkovski said.
The opposition leader led the walkout, saying authorities' freezing of the bank account of A1 TV, a broadcaster that has often been critical of the government, was politically motivated. Authorities say it is due to a tax fraud investigation.
A1 has accused authorities of exerting political pressure to shut it down. Its owner Velija Ramkovski and 16 executives from his other companies _ which include three newspapers _ have been in detention since being arrested in December. They have been charged with alleged tax fraud of (EURO)4.1 million ($5.6 million).
The move to freeze the bank account was an indication that the conservative government "is an undemocratic and authoritarian regime which does not deserve legitimacy any more," Crvenkovski said.
A1 TV has been broadcasting its news programs from the streets since Thursday to protest the court-ordered bank account freeze. The station's news anchors have been reading their bulletins standing outside the main government building in downtown Skopje, surrounded by TV station workers. Other programs have been broadcast without any interruptions.
Crvenkovski also accused Gruevski of attempting to cover up bad governance by muzzling the independent media.
"Gruevski is only interested in concealing his own crimes and the fatal consequences of his rule. He wants to vanish, to bury the truth," Crvenkovski said. "What he wants is a complete darkness, complete silence and to remain alone with his lies and other media megaphones."