Sunday

22nd Sep 2019

Albania killings cast shadow over country's EU aspirations

  • Tirana: Since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, Albania has never held elections fully meeting international standards (Photo: lassi.kurkijarvi)

The EU has warned Albanian politicians to refrain from violence after three anti-government protesters were shot in front of the Prime Minister's office on Friday (21 January) in clashes with police. More demonstrations are due this week.

"We urgently appeal to all political forces to call for calm and refrain from provocation," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele said in a joint statement, deploring the loss of life and the violence in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

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"In order for Albania to progress on its European path, we once again urge Albanian politicians to engage in a constructive political dialogue to resolve without any further delay the long-standing political stalemate and to mobilise the countries energies to this end."

The Albanian opposition, led by Socialist Party chairman Edi Rama, who is also the mayor of Tirana, has called for fresh protests against the government this Friday, one week after the clashes that saw three killed and dozens wounded in front of the premier's office.

"We shall continue our struggle in a determined way, because the way out is clear - either a free Albania for all, or keep the people subdued under the boot of barbaric power," Mr Rama said at the funeral for one of the dead protesters.

For its part, the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha has also announced a rally "against violence" on Wednesday.

The political stand-off dates back to the 2009 elections, which have not been recognised by the opposition. They claim the poll was rigged in favour of Mr Berisha. Since the fall of its Communist regime in 1991, Albania has not yet managed to hold elections fully meeting international standards.

A Nato member and an EU aspirant, Albania - one of the poorest countries in Europe - has seen member states reject its EU application, filed last year, until the political deadlock ends.

Despite mediation attempts from Western diplomats, there is no reconciliation of the two sides on the horizon, with Mr Rama calling on the "corrupt" government to resign and Mr Berisha accusing him of attempting a "Tunisian-style" coup.

"[The opposition] are the real authors of this ugly crime. Yesterday's anti-constitutional act bears your name and you will face all the consequences," Mr Berisha said at the weekend.

Arrest warrants have been issued for six guards suspected of shooting the protesters, but prosecutors said on Sunday that police have not yet arrested the men.

During the clashes with riot police, thousands of demonstrators set cars on fire and threw stones at government buildings, calling for the resignation of the government after deputy premier Ilir Meta, a key ally of Mr Berisha, quit his job last week over corruption allegations.

Local elections are due on 8 May, but the next general elections are not scheduled until 2013.

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