Thursday 17 October 2019

Riot police targeted with firebombs and flares by protesters in Albania

Opposition leaders have been urged to condemn the violence as thousands of anti-government demonstrators take to the streets of Tirana.

Protesters shout slogans during a rally in Tirana on Monday (Hektor Pustina/AP)
Protesters shout slogans during a rally in Tirana on Monday (Hektor Pustina/AP)

By Llazar Semini, Associated Press

Anti-government protesters in Albania have hurled firebombs and flares at riot police standing in front of the main government building.

Thousands of demonstrators, many holding umbrellas, were standing in driving rain as thick clouds of white smoke from flares hung above them on Monday.

Protests over the weekend turned hostile, with opposition supporters showering police officers with firebombs as they responded with tear gas.

Injuries were reported on both sides.

Protesters throw petrol bombs at the National Police Headquarters during clashes in Tirana on Monday (Hektor Pustina/AP)

Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama denounced the violent behaviour of protesters, saying “Albania is damaged.”

Before Monday’s protest, the Interior Ministry said the opposition would “try to repeat the same acts of violence”.

But the opposition Democratic Party accused the government of trying to stir up “confrontation, conflict and fear among citizens”.

“We assure citizens that the Democratic Party is committed only to a peaceful protest,” it said.

A protester falls as he tries to remove a fence (Hektor Pustina/AP)

The opposition has been holding protests since mid-February, accusing government officials of corruption and stealing votes in the parliamentary election two years ago.

They are demanding a transitory government and an early election.

Opposition politicians relinquished their seats in parliament in protest, though many vacancies ultimately were filled by other opposition candidates.

The governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

Violent demonstrations are damaging Albania's democratic reform efforts and the country's prospects for moving forward on the EU path US Embassy in Tirana

A US Embassy statement in Tirana on Monday called on opposition leaders to condemn violence and “ensure that all future public protests are orderly and peaceful.”

“Violent demonstrations are damaging Albania’s democratic reform efforts and the country’s prospects for moving forward on the EU path,” it said, urging them 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 the recent violence “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 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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