Albanian opposition clashes with police at anti-government protest

Albanian opposition clashes with police at anti-government protest
By Valentina Dimitrievska December 8, 2015

Several thousand supporters of Albanian’s opposition Democratic Party (DP) held a protest on December 8 in Tirana. The demonstration, which the party said was aimed at toppling the current government, ended in scuffles with police in front of the government building.

The protest coincided with the 25th anniversary of the student demonstration that led to the fall of communism and the one-party system in the country, which is celebrated as the National Youth Day. Democratic Party (DP) leader Lulzim Basha had announced plans for a “popular uprising” on December 3, saying the party wanted prime minister Edi Rama’s government to stand down and for a technocratic government to rule until early elections are organised. The DP and Rama’s ruling Socialist Party have frequently accused each other of corruption.

The opposition protest started at around 11am local time in Tirana’s central Skanderbeg Square and continued to the government building, news agency ATA reported.

Former participants of the 1990 student demonstrations and some who had been persecuted under the communist regime joined businesspeople and supporters of the Democratic Party in the protest, which was also attended by former prime minister Sali Berisha.

The demonstration escalated when protestors started to throw stones, bottles and eggs at the government building, demanding the resignation of the current Socialist-led cabinet.

Some tried to break through a police cordon and set on fire a symbolic bunker in front of the interior ministry. Placards with pictures of Rama were also set on fire. However, no injuries were reported.

In a party statement, Basha blamed the current government for “injustice, corruption, crime and poverty.”

During his speech, he called for a technical government to be established in order to prepare early elections, according to the statement.

“Before us are two choices, either to remove the government, or accept the collapse of Albania,” Basha said.

DP secretary general Arben Ristani described the protests as a “majestic opposition rally,” according to ATA.

The latest protest followed the Albanian parliament’s rejection of an opposition proposal related to CEZ’s failed investment in Albania on December 5. The Democrats demanded an independent international investigation into the settlement Rama and parliament speaker Ilir Meta struck with the Czech utility in 2014, which Basha claims will cost taxpayers €600mn.

However, Rama’s government claims it is fighting corruption more effectively than previous DP-led governments. Rama has set the fight against the crime and corruption as well as EU-related economic reforms as priorities. One of the government’s most high-profile achievements was launching a campaign against the informal economy in September, and the fight against illicit drugs and marijuana trafficking, for which it was praised by international community.

Following the protest, Rama wrote on his Facebook page that he blamed the opposition for vandalism and for having “no vision, no leadership, and, unfortunately, no relation to European Albania”. He added that the protest has nothing to do with what happened 25 years ago.

The conservative DP, which lost power in 2013, has 50 seats in the 140-seat parliament. The Socialist Party and its junior coalition partner the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) led by Meta have 65 and 16 seats respectively.