Opposition denied permission for protest as political rift deepens in Albania

Opposition denied permission for protest as political rift deepens in Albania
Thousands of opposition supporters surrounded the parliament building at an earlier protest on February 21.
By bne IntelliNews March 3, 2019

The Albanian police have decided not to give permission to the main opposition Democratic Party to stage a protest on March 5, citing safety reasons, local media reported on March 3.

The opposition warned it will stage another anti-government protest on March 5 in front of the parliament at a time when a parliament session will be held.

The police stated that the planned rally will put the lives of MPs at risk, as the organisers called for violence, Albanian Daily News reported.

The opposition staged several protests in February against the government of Socialist Prime Minster Edi Rama whom they accused of crime and corruption.

At the last protest on February 26, supporters of the Democratic Party gathered in front of the parliament in Tirana creating a tense situation at a time when some of the governing Socialists were in the building.

A group of demonstrators tried to break the line of police placed at the main entrance of the parliament, but were halted by the police who used tear gas to disperse the crowd. They also tried to prevent ministers from the Socialist Party from entering the parliament building. The protest turned violent with demonstrators throwing water, cans and firecrackers at police. As police responded, several demonstrators were seen lying on the ground.

This followed two earlier protests, the first of which was also marred by violence. 

At the initial demonstration, on February 16, 15 people were injured, including five police officers, and the main entrance of the government building was demolished.

A week later, police rolled out barbed wire to protect the parliament as a huge crowd surrounded the building, forcing the head of the assembly to cancel the session to defuse tensions. 

MPs from both the Democratic Party and another major opposition party, the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), as well as other minor political parties have quit the parliament. In total, 65 lawmakers have resigned.

The Democrats say the protests will continue until Rama agrees to an interim government pending early elections. 

However, Rama, whose Socialist party won a landslide in the last general election, rejected the demand for an interim government and early elections.

Rama’s Socialists occupy 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament. The DP has 43 lawmakers and the LSI has 19 seats.

"The election will be held in 2021 as envisaged by the Albania's Constitution," Rama was cited by Albanian Daily News in February.

Speaking to journalists on March 2, Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha talked of a "grand national protest” on March 16. 

“[T]he only step to bringing Albania to Europe is to end a crime-related government, to have a parliament elected by the people, a government that is in front of citizens, not criminals,” Basha said, according to a party statement

Asked whether he planned to accept Rama’s invitation to a meeting to discuss the situation, Basha responded: “the only meeting I have is that of hundreds of thousands of Albanians on March 16 at the great national protest and, of course, other meetings in front of the crime assembly, which has usurped the building of the Albanian Parliament.”

The already acrimonious relationship between government and opposition has worsened at a critical time, as Albania, an EU candidate country since 2014, is hoping to get the green light to start accession talks later this year. 

EU and US officials have expressed concern over the situation in the country, and warned Albania's opposition parties against violence during protests and their decision to abandon the parliament.