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Europe

EU calls for calm as three die in Albanian protests

Three people have been shot dead in clashes between demonstrators and security forces in the Albanian capital Tirana. Dozens more civilians and police have been injured.

Burnt out cars and smoke

Police cars were set on fire during Friday's demonstration

Clashes between demonstrators and security forces during an anti-government protest in the Albanian capital Tirana have left three people dead and dozens injured.

Thousands of people had gathered in the center of the capital in response to a call from the socialist opposition to protest the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

The protesters called for the government to step down, accusing it of corruption and electoral fraud.

Demonstrators started throwing stones and other projectiles at security forces who responded by firing tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets into the crowd.

Row of riot police in Tirana

One police officer remains in a critical condition

Several police cars were set on fire and during the clashes three people were shot dead. The deputy director of Tirana's Military Hospital, where the victims were taken, said one died of a gunshot wound to the head; the other two had shot wounds to the chest from close range. It is not yet clear who shot the demonstrators.

Disputed elections

The opposition Socialist party led by Edi Rama has called for fresh elections after refusing to accept the results of June 2009 parliamentary polls, in which Berisha's Democratic Party narrowly won. The country has been in political deadlock ever since.

Rama accused the government of rigging the 2009 vote to ensure the Democratic Party was reelected. Berisha's key ally, former deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta, resigned a week ago after being accused of corruption.

President Bamir Topi called for "calm and maturity" after Friday's violence. He urged politicians to resume dialogue and find "a new political solution."

Former deputy prime minister Ilia Meta

Ilir Meta resigned after his predecessor accused him of corruption

"Albania needs to heal its wounds, not open new ones," Topi said.

Call for calm

In a joint statement, the European Union, the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said it is urgent that Albania returns to calm.

"We deeply regret that today's demonstration in Tirana was not peaceful and resulted in some casualties ... We urgently appeal for calm and restraint on all sides and to abstain from provocations," the statement said.

The statement was issued by the three organizations' missions in Tirana and said "violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified."

Albania is already a member of NATO and is bidding for a place in the European Union. The current stalemate is the longest political crisis the country has faced.

Author: Catherine Bolsover (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Rob Turner

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