27 Jan 11

Albania Opposition Vows Protest Amid Fears of Violence

Albania opposition leader Edi Rama says he will go ahead with plans to hold a peaceful protest on Friday despite appeals from the EU and the US to cancel the gathering, after riots last week left three people dead.

Besar Likmeta
Tirana

“I call on Albanian citizens who want to honour the victims of state terror with flowers and silence to take part in the homage [rally] on January 28,” Rama said during a press conference on Wednesday.

“Albanians who want to place flowers against barbarity and fascism should attend,” he added.   

Rama’s call comes amid international appeals to cancel the rally due to the heightened political tension that has gripped the country since last Friday’s clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.

EU envoy Miroslav Lajcak, dispatched to Tirana on Wednesday to mediate the crisis between the opposition and the ruling majority, called on both sides to avoid any actions that could further increase the level of confrontation, including holding further rallies.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that he cancelled plans to hold an anti-protest on Saturday.

“The United States welcomes the prime minister’s decision to cancel the rally.  It was statesmanlike and it was the right thing to do.  I spoke by phone with the prime minister a short while ago and I told him this,” US Ambassador to Tirana Alexander Arvizu said in a press conference.

“I find it extremely regrettable that Mr. Rama has indicated that he intends to proceed with the rally on Friday. I strongly urge him to reconsider his position,” he added.

Arvizu has held several meetings with both Berisha and Rama in an effort to convince them to cancel the rallies, and this has been backed by phone calls from the US Undersecretary of State Philip Gordon and public statements by US Deputy Secretary for Europe and Eurasia, Tom Countryman.

“There are no winners in this situation; there are only losers among the political leaders, for the people of Albania and for Albania's image in the European Union, which it is striving to join,” Countryman said in an interview for VOA.

“The continued attempt to turn a losing situation into a winning situation simply risks more violence,” he added.  

Last Friday's riots broke out when several hundred protesters attacked the police barricade set up to protect the prime minister’s office, using sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails, and police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and later with live ammunition fire to disperse the crowd.  

The group of violent protesters threw rocks and set several cars on fire as they clashed with police. Another group of protesters, estimated at 20,000 people, demonstrated non-violently on Tirana's main boulevard.  

Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party and the Socialist opposition, headed by Tirana mayor Edi Rama, have been locked in a power struggle since the end of the June 2009 parliamentary elections.

The Socialists allege that Berisha stole the elections through voter fraud, while the ruling majority rejects the accusations as baseless and maintains that the polls were the best the country has ever held.

Friday's anti-government protests were called by the opposition following the publication of video which allegedly shows two government ministers discussing corrupt deals.

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