Albanian opposition supporters clash over party leadership

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian police intervened on Saturday to move away protesters who broke into the headquarters of the country’s main opposition party in an internal squabble over the party’s leadership.

Police used a water cannon truck and tear gas, and scores of officers pushed away hundreds of protesters who had stormed the ground floor of the center-right Democratic Party’s headquarters. They detained and removed some protesters.

A group led by former party leader Sali Berisha used iron bars and hammers to break open the main doors of the building. Party staff used tear gas to try to prevent them breaking in before the police intervened at the party’s request.

At least one civilian and one police officer were “slighty wounded,” according to Lorenc Panganika, the head of police in Tirana.

Berisha is trying to remove the Democrats’ leader, Lulzim Basha, whom he accuses of being a “hostage” of Prime Minister Edi Rama of the left-wing Socialist Party.

“Today the Democrats and Albania’s democrats will turn the bunker of hostage (Lulzim) Basha into their house of freedom,” Berisha said, pledging to continue the protest.

Berisha closed the rally after three hours, saying it was part of an “unstoppable revolution.”

The party in a statement said that “today’s acts of violence against the Democratic Party mark Sali Berisha’s final isolation and a shameful move out of the political scene.”

Police officers surrounded the party headquarters, and prosecutors started an investigation of the violent acts.

Basha fired Berisha from the parliamentary group in September. That followed an intervention in May by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in a statement that during Berisha’s 2005-2013 tenure as prime minister, the politician was involved in corrupt acts and “using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and his family members.”

interfering in “independent investigations, anticorruption efforts, and accountability measures.”

Blinken said that Berisha’s “corrupt acts undermined democracy in Albania.”

In December Berisha’s grouping claimed to have held a referendum removing Basha from his post, but the move was not recognized by the Democratic Party.

Berisha, 77, served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005 until 2013 and as president from 1992-1997. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in an April 2021 parliamentary election.

U.S. Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim expressed concern at the “rising tensions” at the Democrats’ building and called on protesters “to reject violence and exercise calm.”

“Those inciting violence or undermining the rule of law will be held accountable,” she posted in Twitter.

Last month U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar said there would be “consequences” if the Democratic Party chose someone to be leader who had been designated persona non grata by Washington.

Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the United States because of alleged involvement in corruption.

The European Union office in Tirana also condemned the violence.

Albania is waiting for the EU to launch the full membership negotiations.

Fighting corruption has been post-communist Albania’s Achilles’ heel, strongly affecting the country’s democratic, economic and social development.

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Follow Llazar Semini at https://twitter.com/lsemini

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