Opposition rallies turned violent in Albania

Anti-government protesters in Albania's capital, Tirana, hurled gasoline grenades and flares at riot police in front of the main government building and national police headquarters Monday evening, despite the US diplomats and EU lawmakers appealed for order and calm. Police officers did not respond to the violence, news wires reported.

"It is a march of protest against the illegitimate government," said Lulzim Basha, leader of the Opposition centre-right Democratic Party. The protesters headed to five locations "symbolizing the institutions captured" by the Socialist government of Edi Rama, Basha said in an address to protesters: the prime minister's office, the national police headquarters, parliament, the Interior Ministry and the Tirana city police department, where 50 opposition demonstrators were arrested after a violent protest on Saturday. As they marched, the protesters hurled Molotov cocktails, flares and firecrackers, and broke windows at the police buildings.

PM Edi Rama denounced the violent behaviour of protesters, saying: "Albania is damaged."

Opposition parties have been holding protests since mid-February, accusing government officials of corruption and of stealing votes in the parliamentary election two years ago. They are demanding an early election and calling for a temporary government to run Albania until then. The governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

The US Embassy in Tirana issued a statement on Monday, saying that violent demonstrations are damaging Albania's democratic reform efforts and the country's prospects for moving forward on the EU path. It also urged parties to engage in a constructive dialogue aimed at bringing an end to the political impasse.

European parliamentarians also called on Albanians "to restrain from all forms of violence" because recent clashes "could give the wrong impression that Albania is not ready for the opening of the accession negotiations in June this year."Italian, German and British embassies also called for a peaceful protest and for all sides to enter into dialogue. Albania expects to hear in June whether the EU will grant its request to launch full membership negotiations.


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