Albania Crisis – Fresh clashes as police use tear gas against protesters trying to storm parliament

Albania Tear Gas Police Opposition Protests Tirana parliament
Albanian Police disperse opposition protesters with tear gas in front of Parliament

Tirana, Albania | 26 Feb 2019 (Tirana Echo) – Fresh violent clashes between opposition supporters and police forces in Albania have ended in tear gas thrown by police as they battled with hundreds of protesters attempting to storm into parliament voting on two crucial justice reform structures.

Thousands of police were deployed on Tuesday night as opposition parties called their supporters to gather in front of the parliament while majority socialist MPs were voting on two crucial structures designed to advance and EU and US backed reform of the highly corrupt justice system.

Following calls by their leadership, supporters of the Democratic Party (PD) and the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) surrounded the parliament building for more than 3 hours, clashing with protective lines of poorly protected police officers as several of them tried to storm into the parliament during the plenary session.

The protest comes after opposition MPs resigned from their parliamentary mandates last Thursday, calling for PM Rama to resign and for early elections to be held.

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.

The OSCE Presence in Tirana condemned the violence and called for restrain and responsibility on all sides.

Violence is not the answer to the problems of Albania. We condemn again the political inciting of violence and call for restrain and responsibility, Protesting is democratic, but burning tyres, using firecrackers and breaking police cordons to attack a public institution and in particular the heart of democracy, is not.” said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presence in Tirana.

Opposition protesters assault Albania’s Minister for Tourism Blendi Klosi as he enters parliament for crucial vote on Tuesday evening

However, opposition leaders ignored international calls for calm and said the socialist government of PM Edi Rama is at war with the people.

There will not even be one minute of peace with a government of bandits which has opened war to democracy, the constitution and its people. We are here with a clear message on behalf of all Albanians, that the hour of truth has come for Edi Rama and the time for words has ended,” said DP chairman Lulzim Basha to hundreds of cheering supporters.  

Following attempts to break police lines and enter the parliament building as socialist MPs were voting on key pieces of legislation, special forces and water cannon trucks were deployed and later the police threw tear gas to disperse the angry crowd.

Despite the violent protest 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 which is expected to go after high profile political corruption and links to organized crime.

Opposition crowds were later recalled by DP and LSI leaders to quite the square as 72 socialist MPs were getting ready to leave the parliament building, suggesting a possible intervention by diplomatic representatives in Tirana.

Following the violent clashes, 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.

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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