Tirana, Albania, May 26 (Tirana Echo) – Albania’s main opposition party and its allies protested today in the country’s capital Tirana, demanding the resignation of interior minister Fatmir Xhafaj and the departure of socialist prime minister Edi Rama, following allegations that Xhafaj used his influence to help his brother escape a 7 year jail sentence in Italy.
Thousands of opposition protesters gathered this morning in Tirana’s main boulevard calling on interior minister Xhafaj and prime minister Rama to resign, while chanting a popular 90’s slogan “We want Albania like the whole of Europe”. Pro government media claimed the protest was lukewarm and only a handful of protesters were demonstrating.
Democratic Party chair Lulzim Basha lead the crowds and accused Edi Rama’s socialist government of maintaining close links to criminal klans and of overseeing drug trafficking rings in the highly corrupt Balkan country.
“This government cannot liberate itself from crime, neither can it fight drug trafficking. There’s only one way that of getting rid of this government from the united people. Our struggle is the battle of people who want justice against those who have captured the justice system, the battle between people who want security and rule of law, against the alliance of power with organized crime,” – said Basha.
Opposition groups have been demanding the resignation of interior minister Fatmir Xhafaj after an audio recording allegedly shows his brother Agron Xhafaj, who has been sentenced to 7 years in jail by an Italian court, organizing local criminal groups in the southern city of Vlora.
Interior minister Xhafaj says it is a manipulation and that he has nothing to do with his brother’s past, while opposition parties accuse him of having used his political power to protect his brother from serving jail time in neighboring Italy.
Last week, Xhafaj refused to step down, saying in a press conference that he had never compromised his duties in order to protect his brother from prosecution while accusing the opposition of joining forces with criminal groups in the country who seek to topple the government.
Since the recording was made public, Xhafaj’s brother voluntarily surrendered to Italian police in Rome and the audi recording is being investigated by prosecutors for its authenticity.
Basha said to opposition supporters in Tirana that the autocracy and corruption are unacceptable and that their eyes will not shut before crime and drugs.
Mr. Xhafaj who is largely credited with leading the milestone EU and US backed justice reform last year, has challenged Mr. Basha saying that if the allegations are proved true, he would resign from his ministerial position, but if they are proved untrue, Mr. Basha should leave his chairmanship of the Democratic Party. Basha declined to address the challenge during his protest speech.
After the lukewarm protest and speeches, demonstrators spread around the government buildings and clashed with police forces at the prime minister’s building and the ministry of interior. Protesters were seen throwing eggs, teargas and flower packages symbolizing cocaine packs.
Following the departure of protesters from Tirana’s boulevard, Prime Minister EdRama reacted after the protest on his facebook account.
“Thank you to all those democrats who despise the government, but refused to be part of a ridiculous protest, which demeans those who refuse to put a party above Albania.” – said Rama.
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