Police have fired water cannon and tear gas as stone-throwing protesters stormed the headquarters of the opposition group – the Democratic Party – in the Albanian capital, Tirana, amid a deepening power struggle.
At least one police officer and one protester were injured and dozens of protesters were arrested, police said on Saturday. The protests were later dispersed.
The protesters were supporters of former president and prime minister, Sali Berisha, who was thrown out of the party last year after Washington banned him from entering the United States over alleged corruption.
Last May, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Berisha was involved in corrupt acts during his 2005-13 tenure as prime minister and used “his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members”, allegations Berisha has denied.
Berisha, 77, is trying to remove the Democrats’ leader, Lulzim Basha, whom he accuses of being a “hostage” of Prime Minister Edi Rama of the left-wing Socialist Party.
During Saturday’s unrest, Berisha supporters used hammers to smash open newly installed metal security doors at the offices and threw up ladders in a bid to reach the second floor.
Police said in a statement they were forced to intervene after “a group of lawmakers inside the Democratic Party requested police help because lives were in danger”.
Local media said people inside the building had sought to keep the protesters out by spraying fire extinguishers before police arrived.
“The battle will continue … we consider the party building as our home and we will liberate our home,” said Berisha, speaking just after he was stopped from approaching the building again by police using pepper spray against him and his supporters.
Yuri Kim, The US ambassador in Albania, said Washington was “deeply concerned” about tensions surrounding the Democratic Party headquarters.
“We call on protest organizers to reject violence and exercise calm. Those inciting violence or undermining the rule of law will be held accountable,” Kim posted on social media.
Meanwhile, the EU delegation in Albania called all those involved to exercise “calm and restraint”.
The European Union Delegation condemns the acts of violence that have taken place today and calls on all actors involved to exercise calm and restraint. There must be no room for violence in politics. 1/3
— EU in Albania (@EUinAlbania) January 8, 2022
“There must be no room for violence in politics,” it tweeted.
“Albania’s EU integration path needs a solid opposition that contributes to the country’s reform agenda, responding to the aspiration of the Albanian people who overwhelmingly want to see Albania into the EU,” the office added.