News 11 Feb 13

Albania Activists Protest Fatal Riot Verdict

Activists rallied on Saturday in front of Tirana's main court, protesting against the acquittal of senior officers accused of killing three protestors in the January 21, 2011 riots.

Besar Likmeta
BIRN
Tirana
Political commentator, Andrea Stefani, speaking duing the rally | Photo by : Besar Likmeta

“We are sounding the alarm that the justice system is being held hostage by an autocratic system,” a political commentator, Andrea Stefani, told the rally.

“Under the dictates of the regime, the court has told Albanians that the victims deserved to die,” he added.

Blendi Salaj, a popular Tirana blogger and radio host, said the verdict was shameful.

“They are trying to tell us through their ruling that donkeys fly, like in fairy tales,” he said. “However, their verdict for the murders won't fly, because this is not justice,” Salaj added.

The controversial court ruling dealt with the aftermath of a protest held in Tirana two years ago.

An anti-government demonstration turned into a riot when several hundred opposition marchers attacked a police barricade set up to protect the office of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, using sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails.

Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, and later the Republican Guard used live ammunition fire.

Tirana District Court on Thursday rejected murder charges against General Nrea Prendi, former head of the Republican Guard, and Agim Llupo, former chief of staff of a special unit of the Republican Guard, arguing that there were was insufficient evidence to convict them.

According to prosecutors, Llupo aimed at, and shot dead, two protesters during the January 2011 rally, while Prendi shot with his pistol toward the crowd 11 times, killing one person. Four protesters in total died in the rally and seven others were wounded, including a TV reporter.

Berisha has repeatedly called the protest a failed coup attempt, and has vowed to punish those responsible. The opposition Socialists, who supported the protest, maintain that Berisha turned a peaceful rally into a bloodbath.

The protest on Saturday was organized by Mjaft, a Tirana-based rights group. Activists unveiled a banner, showing Berisha manipulating the two guardsmen and the three judges who freed them like puppets.   

Aldo Merkoci, one of the leaders of Mjaft, said the acquittal should raise alarm bells about the rule of law in Albania.

“Albania’s political class is abusing the justice system,” he said. “We the citizens should see what’s going on in the eye and serve as a barrier toward such miscarriages of justice,” he concluded.   

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