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News 25 Jan 11

Republican Guard Shot Us, Claims Albanian Journalist

A reporter for the local broadcaster ABC News, wounded during Friday’s violent anti-government rally, has told Balkan Insight that the National Guard shot him and two of the protesters who died in the clashes.

Besar Likmeta
Tirana

In his testimony, which has also been given to prosecutors, Fatos Mahmutaj gives a detailed account of how an officer from the National Guard, standing in the courtyard of the prime minister’s office, opened fire, wounding him and killing two protesters.

“I saw the [National Guard] officer when he stood up because before he was covered with his shield. He removed the shield, took aim and shot,” said Fatos Mahmutaj, who was reporting live for his TV station at the time of the incident.

“I saw the fire in his [gun] barrel, I felt the impact of the bullet in my hand, and also heard a crack only ten centimeters from my right ear, which was the skull of the killed protester that was cracking,” Mahmutaj added.

Photos taken by photojournalist Hektor Pustina show the man standing next to Mahmutaj fall to the ground after being shot in the head.    



Three anti-government protesters died during Friday’s clashes and several others were wounded after the National Guard officers inside the courtyard of the prime minister’s office appear to have fired into the air to disperse the crowd, which was pelting them with stones.

“Then I heard another barrage of automatic rifle fire, but it was not fire from an AK-47, it was more muffled. He stopped shooting for a moment, then directed the fire toward the gate, and shoot the other person at the gate,” Mahmutaj said.

Videos published by several local TV stations show a National Guard officer with an automatic MP5 rifle shooting at protesters standing at the gate to the prime minister's office when the protester at the gate is shot in the chest.

According to prosecution sources, the protesters were shot with 9mm caliber bullets, which are used by MP5 automatic rifles.   

When questioned about the shooting of Mahmutaj during a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that the journalist had only been pushed.

Albanian General Prosecutor Ina Rama has issued a warrant for the six high ranking National Guard officers that led the operation, but the police, in breach of the constitution, have refused to enforce the warrants and arrest the officers.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha has said the police will not enforce the arrest orders, and has accused the chief prosecutor of being part of a failed coup d’état orchestrated by opposition leader Edi Rama. Berisha has also accused the head of Secret Service, Bahri Shaqiri, of being involved.  

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.  

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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