Albanian police have launched criminal proceedings against the leader of the opposition Democratic Party, Lulzim Basha, for inciting violence during recent anti-government protests.
The Democrats held a mass protest in Tirana on February 18, demanding the resignation of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. They want a caretaker government to be installed to organise a free and fair general election on June 18. Should Basha be imprisoned or the opposition decide to boycott the vote, this would undermine the legitimacy of the election, which is crucial for Albania’s progress towards EU accession.
The criminal proceedings against Basha were filed with the Tirana Prosecution Office. According to the Albanian penal code, Basha could be sentenced to up to three years in prison if found guilty of the charges, though he might only receive a fine.
Over 10,000 people joined the Democratic Party protest on February 18, during which activists pitched a large tent in front of the PM office.
Basha toughened his tone during a speech inside the opposition tent in the central Tirana square, urging citizens to react with violence against institutions, Albanian Daily News reported.
“If they want war they will have it. Puncture their car tyres, break their office windows… It's time to drag them out of their offices,” Basha was cited as saying.
On February 23, Democratic Party MPs also boycotted a parliament session.
The protest continued despite an appeal from EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn to end the boycott and work with the government to implement judicial reforms.
According to Hahn, it is very important for parliamentary work to continue at a time when substantial reforms are on the agenda, such as setting up vetting bodies as part of the judicial reforms, as well as implementation of electoral reforms.
The upcoming election, together with the judicial reforms currently in progress, could pave the way for Albania to launch long-awaited EU accession negotiations. The country has been an EU candidate since June 2014.
However, the opposition has called for even bigger protests in Tirana ahead of the June election.
Meanwhile, Rama has accused the opposition of obstructing the judicial reforms with their protests, adding that the country "has no future without cleaning the debris of the last 25 years" following the fall of the communism.