/ 22 January 2011

Albania opposition vows more protests, dead buried

Albania’s opposition Socialists vowed on Saturday to stage more anti-government demonstrations a day after three people were shot dead in a protest against Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s rule.

Supporters of the Socialists, who refuse to accept the results of a 2009 election and accuse Berisha’s government of corruption and vote fraud, pelted his office building with sticks and stones on Friday, prompting police to respond with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and stun grenades.

Three civilians died in the confrontation, one of a gunshot wound to the head and the two others with close-range shots to the chest, in the worst violence in the former communist country since protesters stormed the main government building in 1998 following the death of a lawmaker.

As mourners prepared to bury the dead on Saturday, the leader of the Socialist Party, Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, promised more protests and blamed Berisha’s government for the deaths.

“The opposition will observe a day of mourning, but after we honour the dead in a show of freedom and justice, we assure Sali that we will confront him with all the historical and civil responsibility we feel for getting rid of this intolerable regime of thieves,” Rama said.

Berisha has accused Rama of attempting a Tunisia-style uprising.

“Albania is not in a state of emergency and will not pass into a state of emergency. But scenarios of violence will not be tolerated,” Berisha said late on Friday.

Outside his office on Saturday, workers were cleaning up stones, sticks, anti-government banners and the carcasses of gutted cars.

The Socialists have staged many non-violent protests in central Tirana, including a lengthy hunger strike, since the 2009 election. But some analysts believe its confrontation with the government could escalate unless the West intervenes more robustly than it has so far.

In a joint statement, the Tirana missions of the EU, United States and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said they deeply regretted the casualties and called for a compromise.

The European Union rejected Albania’s application last year to become an official candidate to join the bloc, urging it to fight corruption and establish a functioning democracy. – Reuters