Albanian party supporters clash for leader
Albanian opposition supporters clashed as they attempted to storm their party headquarters following an internal leadership struggle.
Former leader Sali Berisha of the main opposition Democratic Party has created a group that is trying to oust party leader Lulzim Basha from his post, accusing him of being a ‘hostage’ of Prime Minister Edi Rama of the Socialist Party.
“Today the Albanian democrats and democrats will turn the hostage bunker (Lulzim) Basha into their house of freedom,” Berisha said.
Protesters stormed the ground floor of the building, using iron bars to open the main door and smashing windows.
Tear gas was used from inside the building to drive them away.
At least one injured was seen.
Following a request from the Democratic Party, police intervened with a water cannon truck and riot police to clear protesters away from the building.
Some demonstrators were taken away, detained by the police.
“Today’s acts of violence against the Democratic Party mark the final isolation of Sali Berisha and a shameful exit from the political scene,” a party statement said.
Basha fired Berisha from the parliamentary group in September, which sparked an internal fight between them.
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…using his power for his own benefit and to enrich his political allies and family members,” interfering in “independent investigations, anti-corruption efforts and accountability measures.”
Blinken said that “Berisha’s acts of corruption have undermined democracy in Albania”.
In December, Berisha’s group claimed to have held a referendum to remove Basha from office, but this decision was not recognized by the official Democratic Party.
Berisha, 77, was Albania’s prime minister from 2005 to 2013 and president from 1992 to 1997.
He was re-elected MP for the Democratic Party in the legislative elections last April.
US Ambassador to Tirana Yuri Kim said he was concerned about “rising tensions” 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 Deputy 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 the United States.
Berisha is the fourth senior Albanian official to be barred from entering the United States because of his alleged involvement in corruption.
The fight against corruption has been the Achilles’ heel of post-communist Albania, strongly affecting the country’s democratic, economic and social development.