By LLAZAR SEMINI, Associated Press
TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Albanian police intervened on Saturday to drive away protesters who broke into the headquarters of the country’s main opposition party during an internal row over the party’s leadership.
Police used a water cannon truck and tear gas, and dozens of officers pushed back hundreds of protesters who stormed the ground floor of the center-right Democratic Party’s headquarters. They arrested and expelled some demonstrators.
A group led by former party leader Sali Berisha used iron bars and hammers to open the main doors of the building. Party staff used tear gas in an attempt to prevent them from breaking and entering before the police intervened at the party’s request.
At least one civilian and one policeman were “slightly injured”, according to Lorenc Panganika, the Tirana police chief.
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Berisha is trying to oust Democratic leader Lulzim Basha, whom he accuses of being a “hostage” of Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Left Socialist Party.
“Today the Albanian Democrats and Democrats will turn hostage (Lulzim) Basha’s bunker into their home 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 said in a statement that “today’s acts of violence against the Democratic Party mark Sali Berisha’s final isolation and a shameful exit from the political arena.”
Police surrounded the party headquarters and prosecutors opened an investigation into the acts of violence.
Basha fired Berisha from the caucus in September. This followed an intervention in May by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in a statement that during Berisha’s tenure as Prime Minister from 2005 to 2013, the politician was implicated in acts of corruption and “was using his power for his own gain and to enrich his political allies and members of his family.
interfere with “independent investigations, anti-corruption efforts and accountability measures”.
Blinken said that “Berisha’s corrupt acts have undermined democracy in Albania”.
In December, Berisha’s group claimed to have held a referendum to remove Basha from his post, but the move was not recognized by the Democratic Party.
Berisha, 77, was Albanian Prime Minister from 2005 to 2013 and President from 1992 to 1997. He was re-elected as a member of the Democratic Party in the legislative elections of April 2021.
US Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim expressed concern at the “growing tension” in the Democrats’ building and called on protesters “to reject violence and show calm.”
“Those who incite violence or undermine the rule of law will be held accountable,” she posted on Twitter.
Last month, US Assistant Under Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar said there would be “consequences” if the Democratic Party chose as its leader someone who had been designated persona non grata by Washington.
Berisha is the fourth senior Albanian official to be barred from entering the United States due to his alleged involvement in corruption.
The European Union office in Tirana also condemned the violence.
Albania is waiting for the EU to launch full membership negotiations.
The fight against corruption has been the Achilles heel of post-communist Albania, strongly affecting the democratic, economic and social development of the country.
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