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Albania's prime minister will testify today before a parliamentary commission set up by his party to investigate the January 21 unrest, which he says was part of a failed coup d'état.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha will be the first witness to testify before the controversial commission, which was set up by the ruling Democratic Party to investigate the January 21 anti-government riots. It has been rejected as unlawful by the opposition Socialist party.
The commission, which says that it aims to investigate and prove that opposition forces attempted a coup d’état, somewhat disingenuously states in its official title that there was one.
The protest of January 21 turned into a riot when several hundred marchers attacked the police barricade set up to protect the prime minister’s office, using sticks, stones and Molotov cocktails. Police responded with tear gas, water cannon and later with live ammunition fire, leaving three dead and dozens wounded.
Berisha has declared with increasing intensity over the past week that he was the victim of a failed coup attempt, and has vowed to punish those responsible.
The prime minister's testimony before the commission will be followed by that of his close aide, minister of interior Lulzim Basha. The Albanian premier has declared that other witnesses who come forward and give information about the coup will be rewarded by a special fund set up by the Ministry of Finance.
Meawhile, on Saturday the commission asked the four mobile phone operators in the country to hand over the phone records of the president, the general prosecutor, the secret service chief and a dozen opposition MPs.
According to Albanian law, phone records can only be requested by the general prosecutor during a criminal investigation, and the demand is seen by many in Tirana as the latest illegal move by the ruling majority, which some say aims to do away with all institutions that challenge Berisha’s power.
The opposition has responded to the request for the phone records, calling it illegal and describing the move as the real institutional coup d’état, carried out by the prime minister.
Socialist leader Edi Rama has appealed to the United States and the European Union to stop the government’s attacks, which he says threaten to push the country into further chaos.
“The violence against institutions with this anti-constitutional barbarity, from a government out of the constitutional order and a prime minister totally out of the realm of reason, risks the total collapse of the state,” Rama said.
Top Officials Accused of Involvement in Coup Attempt
As Berisha's commission carries out a probe into the alleged coup attempt by top officials, the premier has refused to cooperate with investigations being led by the country's general prosecutor into the deaths of the protesters.
Last week the Albanian premier rejected an order by general prosecutor Ina Rama for the arrest of six high-ranking Republican Guard officers suspected of ordering the use of firearms against protesters during the January 21 clashes that left three people dead and seven wounded by gunfire.
Lawyers have called the failure by the police to hand over the officers a breach of the constitution and a dangerous precedent for the country.
Berisha's parliamentary commission has attempted to thwart any probe into the murders, despite calls by the US, the EU and local and international human rights organisations.
On Saturday, it cleared the Republican Guard of any responsibility for the deaths of the three protesters during a short visit with TV cameras to its headquarters.
Meanwhile, Berisha has accused the prosecutor general, the president and the secret service of involvement in the alleged coup.
According to the prime minister and his MPs, these three institutions have conspired with a dozen opposition MPs to push him from power.
Berisha lashed out at General Prosecutor Ina Rama last week, accusing her of acting as a conspirator because she did not start an investigation into the alleged coup. The premier's parliamentary commission has placed Prosecutor Rama under investigation for failing to look into the prime minister's self-declared putsch attempt.
She has also been heavily criticised for seeking the arrest of the Republican Guard officers, although Berisha now admits that the protesters were shot by the guards on duty during the riots.
After the general prosecutor received the full backing of the United States in a joint press conference with the American ambassador in Tirana last week, Berisha called her a “liar” and “witch” who had duped Washington.
The secret service chief is also accused of being part of the coup because, according to Berisha, he has not forwarded information that there was one.
If the commission finds that the president, the general prosecutor and the secret service were part of the alleged putsch attempt, they could all be fired by parliament, where Berisha holds a slim majority.
Berisha Details 'Ongoing' Coup Attempt
According to Berisha, the anti-government protests were only the first part of the coup. He says that phases B and C are ongoing, and are being orchestrated by the president, the general prosecutor and the secret service.
The Albanian premier declared on Friday that he has proof that the attack on his office by protesters on January 21 included both sophisticated weapons and conventional ones.
“We have full evidence that the plotters would use umbrella shaped pistols, pen pistols and knifes with poisonous tips, during different stages of the coup d’état,” said Berisha in a press conference on Friday, before tens of thousands of opposition protesters marched peacefully in front of his office, calling for justice for the three victims of the January 21 clashes.
Berisha’s ruling Democratic Party and the Socialist opposition, headed by Tirana mayor Edi Rama, have been locked in a power struggle over the results of the June 2009 general elections.
The Socialists say that Berisha "stole" the election through voter fraud. The Democrats have rejected the accusations, maintaining that the polls were the best the country has ever held.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton sent special envoy Miroslav Lajcak to Tirana on Wednesday to mediate between the quarreling parties and start a dialogue, and he told Albanians that both Ashton and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule were ready to follow him to Tirana and help negotiate an end to the crisis.
For most Albanians, who have shown unreserved support for the country’s European perspective and are shocked by the events of the past week, Brussels' next move could not come fast enough.
Police in Tirana have arrested three people suspected of plotting to assassinate Albania’s Socialist opposition leader Edi Rama.
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