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Albania police: Opposition chief incited riots

February 26, 2017

Albania's opposition leader has been charged with inciting public violence after taking part in sweeping anti-government protests. If convicted, Lulzim Basha faces up to three years in jail.

Albanien Anti-Regierungsproteste in Tirana | Lulzim Basha, Demokratische Partei
Image: Reuters/F. Goga

Police have charged the leader of Albania's center-right opposition Democratic Party with inciting violence. If found guilty, Lulzim Basha would face up to three years in prison.

Authorities made the announcement late Saturday, saying Basha had "called on citizens to react violently against state institutions." According to police, he told supporters to "puncture car tires, break the glass" in protests that hit a new peak on Friday. "You want a fight?" officers quoted Basha as saying. "A fight it will be."

Hundreds have protested in Tirana, the capital, for the past week, calling for the resignation of the Socialist prime minister, Edi Rama, ahead of elections set for June 18. The protesters have occupied a tent in front of the main government offices in the capital.

On Saturday, Basha deemed his party's protests "grandiose, popular, democratic, total and peaceful," certainly not the "call for war" that police have accused him of. He warned, however, that his Democrats would "not stay like sheep, but hit back strongly."

'Free and fair'

Last week, Basha said he would boycott parliament to delay the adoption of judicial overhauls required by the European Union in order for Albania to begin accession talks. Albania obtained EU candidate status in 2014 and officials hope to open talks for joining the bloc by the end of this year. Last year, the Balkan country adopted a key judicial reform sought by the European Union to fight widespread corruption and organized crime.

Basha said the opposition would continue to protest until a caretaker government was formed "that would organize free and fair elections."

Prime Minister Rama had suggested that the opposition send lawmakers to assure the adoption of the judicial measures while continuing their protests out of session, but Basha dismissed the request and accused the government of deepening poverty and corruption in Albania. The Democrats have also so far rejected international calls to stop their boycott.

mkg/tj (AFP, AP)