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Wanted Macedonian leader says seeking asylum in Hungary

media Gruevski is close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban AFP/File

Macedonia's former prime minister Nikola Gruevski, who has been sentenced to jail for abuse of power, said Tuesday he was in Hungary where he has requested political asylum.

Macedonian authorities on Monday issued a warrant for his arrest after he failed to turn up at the prison to start his two-year sentence.

"I am now in Budapest, where I have requested political asylum from the Hungarian authorities," the 48-year-old wrote on his official Facebook page.

"During the past couple of days I have received numerous threats on my life."

In the past Gruevski has voiced being close to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

In 2017, Orban publicly supported Gruevski during his campaign for municipal election in which Gruevski's VMRO-DPMNE party lost to ruling Social Democrats.

Macedonia said it was checking with Budapest.

"We suspect that (Gruevski) has fled," Interior Minister Oliver Spasovski told AFP.

Saying he was a victim of politically motivated persecution, Gruevski wrote that he remained "faithful to the Macedonian cause", adding: "I will not give up."

Gruevski, who dominated Macedonia for nearly a decade until 2016, was convicted in May of using a 600,000-euro ($676,009) government Mercedes for personal travel. A Skopje court upheld the sentence in October.

- 'No idea where Gruevski is' -

He led the right-wing VMRO-DPMNE party but resigned in 2016 after a scandal over allegations of widespread wire-tapping of his opponents.

Gruevski also faces a number of other charges of corruption, abuse of power, electoral fraud as well as illegal wiretapping.

The cases come at a tense time in the Balkan nation with a new ruling coalition trying to push through a deal to change the country's name and end a historic row with Greece.

Gruevski had taken a hardline stance when he was in power against the name dispute with Athens, which has its own province called Macedonia.

Greece has blocked Skopje's entry into NATO and the European Union over the issue for nearly 30 years.

VMRO-DPMNE appears divided over the name change issue.

A party spokesman said it had "no idea where the honorary president (Gruevski) is or what he is doing."

Spokesman Dimce Arsovski said he saw Gruevski "nine or ten months ago.

"I don't know when current president (Hristijan) Mickosi spoke to him for the last time," he told a press conference.

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