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27 Jan 11

Albania PM Seeks 'Witnesses' to Prove Coup Conspiracy

Albania's premier has asked the finance minister to set up a fund that will pay witnesses who testify that the government was the victim of a failed coup d’état last week.

Besar Likmeta
Tirana

“Mr. Minister of Finance, you should set up a compensation fund for the witnesses that will show up- and there will be many- to provide evidence about the coup, its finances, operation, organisation and command,” Sali Berisha said during a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The "witnesses" are expected to testify in front of a parliamentary investigative commission set up by Berisha's Democratic Party on Sunday. The opposition has boycotted the committee.

Berisha has lashed out against the opposition in recent days, arguing that they were behind the violent clashes last Friday, which Berisha claims were part of an attempt to push him from power.

The fighting on Friday 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. Three protesters were killed.

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.  

Of the 113 people who were arrested during the unrest, only two dozen remain in prison.

Television pictures and witness testimony indicate that the three victims and the six wounded by gunfire in the riots were shot by the Republican Guard outside the prime minister's office.

Following the clashes, General Prosecutor Ina Rama launched a probe into the protesters' deaths and as evidence mounted, issued warrants to question six high ranking Republican Guard officers.

The police, considered to be loyal to Berisha, have refused to enforce the warrants, in what experts say is a grave breach of the Albanian constitution.

In a joint press conference with the US ambassador in Tirana on Tuesday, the general prosecutor explained that the probe, based on the preliminary evidence collected, concentrated on the protesters' deaths and charges of destruction of property and disobeying police orders. Rama has received the strong backing of the United States for her planned investigations.

Angry with the prosecutor because she is not investigating his self-declared coup, Berisha has lashed out at her with accusations that she and the secret services were involved in the alleged attempt to overthrow his government.

On Thursday he panned the prosecutor during a meeting with the families of the Republican Guard officers, accusing her of being a liar and duping the United States.

“You lied in front of the representative of greatest country in the world and the greatest friend of the Albanians,” Berisha said.

Government critics say that the parliamentary commission set up by the Democratic Party will attempt to serve as a public trial in an effort to pressure, discredit and even replace Prosecutor Rama and Secret Service head Bahri Shaqiri.   

Some experts have drawn parallels with the public trials held by the former regime of Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha.    

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