TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters took to the streets again Sunday to demand new elections despite repeated calls from Western powers to sit down for talks. At least seven police officers and a demonstrator were injured in scattered violence during the protest.
The center-right Democratic Party-led opposition supporters gathered at the main government building accusing center-left Socialist Party Prime Minister Edi Rama of corruption and links to organized crime. They want Rama to resign and an interim Cabinet to take the country to an early parliamentary election.
“The whole of our battle is for a free and fair election, for European values,” said Democratic leader Lulzim Basha.
Flares, smoke and firebombs were hurled at the government building during Basha’s speech.
Then Basha led supporters to parliament where a small group of supporters with their faces covered continuously smoke bombs and noisy firecrackers.
Police eventually used water cannons and tear gas when a small group tried to get closer to the building.
Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj said seven police officers were injured. An opposition supporter was injured by a firecracker that exploded near his legs outside parliament.
Opposition protests have been going on since mid-February. Rama’s Socialists say the opposition is hurting the country’s image as European Union leaders decide whether to launch full membership negotiations with Tirana.
The EU, U.S. and other Western institutions have asked the opposition to avoid violence and to hold talks instead to resolve the country’s political deadlock.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was on a brief visit to Tirana on Sunday, called on both sides “to resolve any differences through dialogue and established political processes.”
“Political violence contradicts our democratic values. It is absolutely unacceptable,” he said at a news conference four hours before the rally.
The opposition has relinquished its seats at parliament and is boycotting Albania’s June 30 municipal election.
The Socialists, who have enough parliamentary seats to run on their own, have launched their electoral campaign saying they can’t violate the constitution and change the election day.
By LLAZAR SEMINI Associated Press