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Albania opposition vows protests
Prime minister asks supporters to hold "peace march" following an anti-government demonstration that ended in violence.
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2011 18:32 GMT



Albania's opposition has vowed to stage more anti-government protests, a day after a demonstration against Sali Berisha, the country's prime minister, ended in violence.

Clashes between the police and supporters of Albania's Socialist party broke out on Friday in Tirana, the capital, when demonstrators pelted Berisha's office building with sticks and stones, prompting police to respond with tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.

Edi Rama, the leader of the Socialist party, blamed Berisha's government for three deaths and promised that protests would continue after the opposition observed a day of mourning.

"After we honour the dead in a show of freedom and justice, we assure Berisha that we will confront him with all the historical and civil responsibility we feel for getting rid of this intolerable regime of thieves," Rama said on Saturday.

Berisha, for his part, called on his supporters to gather for a mass protest against violence.

"I call on Albanians to gather on Wednesday in Tirana to protest against the violence. It will be a big demonstration against violence," Berisha said on Saturday.

"I warn Edi Rama and his followers, and violent groups of their supporters, that they will face the full force of the law if they dare touch the [government] institutions."

More than 20,000 people took to the streets on Friday to demand that Berisha call early elections after Ilir Meta, the country's deputy prime minister, resigned over an alleged corruption scandal earlier this week.

The scandal broke after a private TV station aired a video allegedly showing Meta asking a colleague to influence the awarding of a contract for building a power station.

'Tunisia-style uprising'

Berisha denied that police took part in killing any civilians during the protest and accused Rama, who is also the mayor of Tirana, of attempting a Tunisia-style uprising.

"Albania is not in a state of emergency and will not pass into a state of emergency. But scenarios of violence will not be tolerated," Berisha said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Tirana, Besar Likmeta, editor of the website balkaninsight.com, said: "The political situation continues to be very tense here and the opposition and the government are accusing each other of murder.

"The general prosecutor's office has initiated an investigation into the deaths and issued warrants for six high-ranking officers of the National Guard. But unfortunately the police aren't enforcing these warrants."

Meanwhile, Amnesty International (AI), the UK-based human-rights group, has urged Albanian authorities to investigate the deaths that resulted from the Tirana protests.

Andrea Huber, AI's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said: "The police have a right to maintain order and protect the public, but they must not use excessive force against those carrying out their legitimate right to protest."

Friday's demonstrations marked the first time opposition protests had ended in violence since a political crisis erupted in Tirana after the disputed 2009 general elections.

Elections in the country have often been marred by violence and allegations of fraud since the collapse of Albania's communist government in 1991. The current impasse is the longest political crisis the country has faced.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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