Albanian anti-government protesters try to storm parliament

By LLAZAR SEMINI – Associated Press – Saturday, March 16, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) – Albanian opposition supporters clashed with police while trying to storm the parliament building Saturday in a protest against the government which they accuse of being corrupt and linked to organized crime.

Thousands of supporters of the center-right Democratic Party-led opposition first gathered on the capital’s main boulevard in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office to demand his resignation.

Protesters, led by Democratic leader Lulzim Basha, then walked to the parliament building and tried to break through police lines while throwing smoke bombs and other objects at officers.

Police dispersed them with tear gas and water cannons. A few protesters were injured and helped by others around them.

The opposition, whose lawmakers have relinquished their seats in parliament, declines to dialogue with Rama, asking for a transitory Cabinet without him to prepare early elections.

Earlier, threw smoke bombs and flares behind the police lines outside the prime minister’s office, and many shouted “Rama go!”

Hundreds of police officers surrounding the government building didn’t respond.

“We have no alternative but to protest until we bring back democracy and rule of law,” Basha told The Associated Press in an interview before the start of the rally.

President Ilir Meta, who is on a visit in Azerbaijan, called on the opposition to protest “peacefully.”

The governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament. Some vacant seats in the parliament have been taken by opposition candidates. Opposition parties blame the Socialists for “buying” those people, an accusation the government denies.

The U.S. and European Union have warned the opposition against using or inciting violence and to sit down for talks.

Recent rallies have turned violent, with police deploying tear gas.

Albania hopes to get the EU’s approval in June on launching membership negotiations.

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