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News 23 Feb 17

Albania Opposition Ignores EU Call to End Protests

The opposition Democratic Party is continuing its street protests despite appeals from top EU officials to end its boycott of parliament and work with the government on completion of key judicial reforms. 

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
PD leader Lulzim Basha meeting the protesters. Photo: PD

Albania's Democratic Party-led opposition on Thursday started a sixth day of street protests against the centre-left government of Edi Rama, calling on the government to step down so that a "technical" government can be formed to lead the country into free and fair elections.

This was despite the European Union Enlargement Commissioner making clear that Brussels does not support protests on the street and wants the issue of free and fair elections solved in parliament.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn on Wednesday said he regretted the parliamentary boycott announced by the opposition.

"The political debate should not take place outside but inside parliament. Cooperation of government and opposition is crucial for the country's ambition to join the European Union," Hahn said.

Hahn also said that at a time when important judicial reforms are taking place in Albania, the opposition has to play an active role in their implementation.

"It is of utmost importance to maintain parliamentary continuity in a time where substantial reforms are on the agenda of the parliament, such as the setting up of the vetting bodies in the framework of the justice reform," he said.

The Rapporteur on Albania in the European Parliament, Knut Fleckenstein, took the same standpoint on Wednesday at a press conference in Tirana.

"I ask my colleagues and friends in the Democratic Party to continue to do what they believe is important, but I call on them to return to their job. This is not just my stand but is also that of Commissioner Hahn, of the [EU] High Representative [Federica] Mogherini, of all of us," he said.

Like Hahn, Fleckenstein urged the political parties to work together on the judicial reform, which the EU sees as a priority before opening accession talks with Albania.

"We have had a tough battle over the judicial reform, so I ask my colleagues in the PD [the Democrats]: don't give me the impression that you have misused it. The minimum that I ask from you is to return and work in the parliamentary commissions [on the reform]," he said.

Despite the appeals from the EU, the Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha on Wednesday said that opposition MPs would gather in a protest tent erected in Tirana on Thursday and speak there instead of in parliament.

During a meeting with students in the tent on Wednesday evening, Basha sent a defiant message.

"I ask you to not accept anything less than the European model for things. What is good for Europe is also good for Albanians; what is not good for Europe, it should be the same here as well," he told the students.

 

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