Albania Protest – Ruling socialists push through crucial vote as opposition MPs accuse police of using tear gas on their supporters

Albania Police Tear Gas Disperse Opposition Protest Parliament
Police throw tear gas to disperse an angry mob of opposition supporters trying to storm into the parliament building in Tirana

Tirana, Albania | 27 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s ruling socialists have pressed ahead with a crucial justice reform vote as they slam opposition representatives accusing the State Police of using disproportional poisonous tear gas on their protesters and bystanders.

Mutual accusations followed a fresh violent protest in front of the parliament building last night in Tirana as police forces battled with hundreds of protesters attempting to storm into the plenary hall voting on two crucial justice reform structures.

As parliament was getting ready for an unscheduled evening session, groups of protesters tried to prevent several MPs from entering parliament, with a handful physically assaulting Minister for Tourism Blendi Klosi and socialist MP Paulin Sterkaj – later burning rubber tyres and throwing stones and firecrackers at police officers.

Following attempts to break police lines and enter the parliament building as the crucial vote was underway, special forces and water cannon trucks were deployed to block the mob and later the police threw tear gas to disperse the angry crowd as well as its political leaders accompanied by resigned opposition MPs.

After the plenary session, Deputy Prime Minister Erion Braçe said the protest was an assault on Albania’s institutions.

No one should think that today’s protest undermined the personal integrity of each and every one of us. No, this is an attack on the constitutional integrity of Albania, and it is my duty to ask them to stop the violence” said Mr. Braçe after the protest.

Socialist MP Paulin Sterkaj, who was pushed around by angry protesters called on the Interior Minister to properly equip police officers facing angry mobs.

I call on the State Police not to employ officers dressed in civilian clothes without proper uniforms and equipment needed to face angry and violent mobs.” said Mr. Sterkaj.

However, opposition leaders and numerous protesters accused the police of using tear gas un-proportionally and of harming protesters and by passers alike.

LSI chairwoman Monika Kryemadhi said the police had used illegal poisoning substances and that protesters would send blood samples abroad for proper analysis.

Many opposition protesters and other citizens have displayed poisoning symptoms after tear gas was fired at them, including signs of vomiting, dizziness and respiratory problems.” said Mrs. Kryemadhi after the protest.  

Albania’s opposition parties have resigned ‘en-block’ their parliamentary mandates, hoping the radical unprecedented decision would force the country’s PM Edi Rama to resign and call for early elections, months ahead of a crucial decision by EU member states on whether to open membership talks with the small Balkan country.

Governing socialists have refused calls for early elections and accuse the opposition leadership of destabilizing the country in order to obstruct the historic reform of the justice system backed by the European Union and the United States.

The Socialist Party will carry out its mandate respecting the will of the voters, and we will also win a third mandate in 2021 because we are the best model in the country. On the day when we vote on two important justice structures, Mr. Berisha, Mr. Basha and Mrs. Kryemadhi are not in parliament. The close we get to the anti-corruption SPAK structure, the farther away they get from parliament, together with their group of huligans,” said Taulant Balla, chair of the Socialist Party parliamentary group.

Despite the violent clashes outside, the socialist majority pushed ahead with voting in favour of the budgetary mechanisms of the High Judicial Council and the High Prosecutorial Council – two crucial pillars of a milestone EU & US backed justice reform, making way for the establishment of a special anti-corruption structure (SPAK) which is expected to go after high profile political corruption and punish its links to organized crime.

Following the unprecedented decision by opposition parties to abandon parliament, which may take the small Balkan country into an unknown spiraling political crisis, the United States and the European Union called on individual opposition MPs to reject their party leadership line arguing the extreme decision would “undermine the basic principles of democracy and subvert the important progress Albania has achieved on rule of law and responsible governance.”

On Monday, the European Union renewed calls for Albania’s opposition parties to engage in talks with the socialist majority and return to parliament, warning their obstructive acts could damage Albania’s aspirations for EU integration.

EU leaders agreed last June to start membership talks with Albania providing the small Balkan nation shows substantial progress in its crucial reform of the highly corrupt justice system.

Brussels has hinted that several member states, notably Germany, France and the Netherlands are reluctant to grant the green light and agree to formally opening accession negotiations with Albania which needs to get its act together in fighting endemic corruption and break close political links to organized crime.

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