UN official expresses concern over human rights, democracy in Macedonia

A top United Nations human rights official has expressed concern over human rights and threats to democracy in Macedonia, amid a deep political crisis that has led to mass protests.

Earlier this month a gunbattle between police and ethnic Albanian gunmen left 18 people dead.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, speaking Friday at the end of a two-day visit, said he is "deeply concerned by serious challenges to the rule of law and the shrinking of democratic space" in Macedonia.

The crisis stems from leaked wiretapped conversations apparently showing government corruption. Opposition leader Zoran Zaev of the Social Democrats claims Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski was behind the alleged illegal wiretapping of more than 20,000 people. Gruevski denies wrongdoing, claiming the recordings were the work of foreign spies.