Violence erupted as thousands of Albanian protesters demanded an early election. The political crisis is seen as a threat to the country’s aspirations of joining the European Union.
Thousands of supporters of the opposition led by Albania’s center-right Democratic Party gathered at the main government building in the capital, Tirana, on Sunday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Demonstrators chanted “Rama go away” and “corrupt government” as they threw firecrackers, stones and smoke bombs, despite organizers’ pleas not to attack the police.
Ten police officers and three other people were injured in the protests, according to Albania’s Interior Ministry. Police used water cannons and tear gas to control the demonstrators when they tried to get closer to the building.
The protesters accuse Rama, a member of the center-left Socialist Party, of corruption and links to organized crime. They want him to resign and a transitional government to hold an early parliamentary election.
“The whole of our battle is for a free and fair election, for European values,” said Democratic leader Lulzim Basha.
The US Embassy in Tirana condemned the violence during the demonstrations.
“We call on the organizers of the protest to stop the violent acts and engage in constructive dialogue,” the embassy said in a statement.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was on a brief visit to Tirana on Sunday, called on both sides “to resolve any differences through dialogue and established political processes.”
“Political violence contradicts our democratic values. It is absolutely unacceptable,” he said at a news conference hours before the rally.
Opposition protests have been going on in Albania since mid-February on a weekly basis.
The European Union, the United States and other Western powers have called on the opposition to avoid violence and instead hold talks to resolve the nation’s political deadlock.
The political crisis is seen as a threat to the country’s dreams of joining the European Union. EU leaders are expected to decide in the coming weeks whether to open accession talks with the volatile Balkan country.
sri/amp (AP, AFP)