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News 13 Mar 17

Albania PM Removes Ministers 'To Focus On Election'

Prime Minister Edi Rama on Sunday announced that four ministers were leaving the cabinet, allegedly to focus on the upcoming June 18 general election.

Fatjona Mejdini
BIRN
Tirana
Albanian government during a meeting. Photo: kryeministria.al

Three months ahead of parliamentary elections on June 18, Albania's Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the departure of four ministers, allegedly to focus on the upcoming election campaign.

Rama named the four as Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, Health Minister Ilir Beqaj, Youth and Social Welfare Minister Blendi Klosi and Local Issues Minister Bledi Cuci.

"The changes in government reflect the need for our [Socialist] leaders in the campaign for the June 18 election to focus on new energies and be near the people," he said on Facebook.

Rama later disclosed the replacements in cabinet as Fatmir Xhafaj, in the Interior Ministry, Olta Xhacka, at Youth and Social Welfare, Ogerta Manastirliu, at Health, and Eduard Shalsi, at the Local Issues Ministry.

During the announcement, Rama insisted that the changes did not come on the request of the junior party in government, the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, nor were they made as a concession to the Democratic Party-led opposition.

"In the last 24 hours, you will have heard a lot of conspiratorial theories over these changes," Rama said. "The four ministers depart with my positive evaluation for all the work that they have done during these three-and-a-half years in government," he said.

The changes seemed unlikely to budge Democratic Party chief Lulzim Basha who along with his supporters has been staging a street protest in a tent in the main boulevard of Tirana in front of the Prime Minister's building, calling on him to resign.

Hundreds of opposition supporters have gathered every day in the tent where Basha has said that the protest will end only when a technical government - without Rama as PM - takes over and guides the country into what he calls a fair and free election.

News began circulating on Saturday that Interior Minister Tahiri had resigned from the post he was assigned to in September 2013.

A wave of speculation over his motives for quitting and over the names that might replace him spread until Tahiri denied the information on Facebook.

"Nobody has asked me for my resignation and I have not given it until now. However, we are going to be stronger together, today and forever," he wrote.

Tahiri was one of the ministers most under attack from the opposition over a large amount of cannabis cultivated in 2016 across the country.

One of the opposition's main stated reasons for starting the ongoing tent protest is fear of the impact of the big money earned from cannabis cultivation on the June 18 election.

The minister was also criticised by members of the LSI, the junior party in the Rama government.

Former LSI Justice minister Ylli Manjani, after being axed on January 30, in a press conference claimed that the foreign intelligence services had urged Rama to sack the Interior Minister citing alleged connections between the police and crime gangs.

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