21 Jan 11

Three Protesters Dead in Albania Clashes

Three protesters have been shot dead and 40 demonstrators and police officers have been injured in anti-government protests in the Albanian capital Tirana.

Besar Likmeta

Sami Koceku, the deputy director of Tirana's military hospital, confirmed the deaths and said that 23 protesters and 17 police officers have been injured, three with life-threatening wounds, and are being treated at Tirana's Military Hospital.

Earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters pushed against the police barricade set up to protect the prime minister’s office, with some hurling firecrackers and stones, while police responded with tear gas. Loud explosions were heard in front of the building.

The demonstrators set fire to cars, and police fired shots in the air and used a water cannon in an attempt to disperse the crowd as it tried to storm the building that houses the prime minister's office.

At least a dozen participants in the rally have been arrested.

Some 20,000 protesters gathered on Tirana's main boulevard for the anti-government rally.

Albanian President Bamir Topi said in a statement that he was following the situation with concern and appealed to all political parties to calm the demonstrators and return to dialogue.

“The president calls for calm and maturity and asks all political groups to calm the protesters and help the police restore law and order,” the statement read.

The EU, US and OSCE delegations in Tirana expressed regret that the demonstrations had turned violent.

In a joint statement, the international officials said: "Violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified and should be avoided."

"Albania is a democratic country and aspirant to EU membership with the necessary democratic institutions in place. We therefore renew our call for constructive dialogue and compromise to resolve the existing political differences,' the statement added.

The opposition had called for the demonstration in an attempt to topple the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and prompt early elections, following a series of high profile corruption scandals.

Rejecting accusations that they want to take power by force, they nonetheless warned that they can’t be held liable if Friday’s protest gets out of control because of simmering anger in the wake of the most recent allegations of high-level corruption.

Earlier on Friday the US embassy in Tirana called on its citizens to avoid the city center over fear that violence would erupt in the opposition protest.

Albania’s ruling Democratic Party and the opposition Socialists have been caught in an intense power struggle over the past two years, which has seen several massive opposition protests in the street, all of them peaceful.

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