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Albania's opposition protesters hurl petrol bombs, rocks at government building

Thousands gathered in front of the government headquarters in the capital Tirana, accusing state officials of involvement in organised crime and corruption. Opposition leader and former Albania PM Sali Berisha was put under house arrest on charges of corruption, which he denies.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New Delhi Published on: February 21, 2024 13:05 IST
Albania protests, corruption allegations, Edi Rama
Image Source : AP Thousands protest in Albania over government corruption

Tirana: Opposition protesters in Albania hurled petrol bombs and rocks at a government building late on Tuesday, accusing state officials of involvement in organised crime and corruption as thousands took to the streets after former Prime Minister leader Sali Berisha was put under house arrest last year. The protests also marked 33 years since the toppling of Albania's communist dictator Enver Hoxha.

Thousands gathered in front of the government headquarters in the capital Tirana as riot police officers were called in to cordon off the office of Albania PM Edi Rama. There were no immediate reports of injuries, serious damage, or arrests. The main opposition Democratic Party has accused Rama of nepotism and corruption.

"Today we are here to bring down Rama's regime, which is worse than Enver Hoxha's regime," said Syle Xhebexhia, who said he travelled over 100 km to attend the protest in Tirana. Meanwhile, Berisha is being investigated for alleged corruption during his tenure as prime minister between 2005 and 2013.

Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to file formal charges against Berisha or drop them. Berisha has denied wrongdoing and has accused Rama of a political vendetta meant to silence opponents. Rama denies this. "Edi Rama, similar to the other dictator (Hoxha), has concentrated all powers in his hands and wants an Albania without opposition," said the opposition leader.

What is happening in Albania?

Since October, opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted parliament sessions to protest the ruling left-wing Socialists' refusal to create parliamentary commissions to investigate alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top officials.

Speaking from his apartment and broadcast live on screens at the rally, Berisha accused Rama of corruption and of politically attacking his family. He pledged to re-open the "integration doors to the European Union, which Edi Rama's regime has closed.”

However, not all opposition groups joined the protest. Supporters of a wing of the divided Democratic Party that didn't take part accused Berisha of holding the protest for personal gain and as a way to increase the number of his supporters. Support for Berisha significantly diminished after the United States in 2021 and the United Kingdom in 2022 barred him and close family members from entering because of alleged involvement in corruption. 

Berisha and his son-in-law were charged in October with corruption over a land deal involving the grounds of a sports club, according to the Guardian. They accused him of using his influence as prime minister from 2005 to 2009 to exert pressure “for the conclusion of the privatisation procedures in favour of others including his daughter’s husband”. 

His son-in-law was arrested but as an MP Berisha has immunity from prosecution. He has been ordered not to leave the country. Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the US on grounds of corruption. Post-communist Albania has struggled to fight corruption, which has impeded its democratic, economic and social development.

(with inputs from agencies)

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