Albanian police fire tear gas as protesters storm party offices
TIRANA (Reuters) – Police fired tear gas and water cannons in Tirana on Saturday as rock-throwing protesters stormed into the headquarters of the opposition Albanian Democratic Party amid a growing power struggle between party rivals .
At least one police officer and one protester were injured and dozens of protesters were arrested, police said. The demonstrations were dispersed in the afternoon.
The protesters were supporters of former president and prime minister Sali Berisha, who was expelled from the party last year after Washington barred him from entering the United States for alleged corruption.
Berisha, who denies any wrongdoing, has since issued a leadership challenge against party leader Lulzim Basha. Last month, Berisha called a party assembly and announced himself as leader.
During Saturday’s unrest, Berisha supporters used hammers to open newly installed metal security doors in offices and threw down ladders in an attempt to reach the second floor.
Police said in a statement they were forced to intervene after “a group of lawmakers within the Democratic Party requested police assistance because lives were in danger.”
Local media said people inside the building sought to prevent protesters from entering by spraying fire extinguishers before police arrived.
“The battle will continue…we regard the party building as our home and we will liberate our home,” Berisha said, speaking just after being stopped from approaching the building again by police who used paper pulverized against him and his supporters.
The EU office in Tirana called for calm and restraint: “There must be no room for violence in politics”, he said.
US Ambassador to Albania Yuri Kim said Washington is deeply concerned about recent tensions surrounding the Democratic Party.
“Those who incite violence or undermine the rule of law will be held accountable,” Kim said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci in Pristina and Florion Goga in Tirana; Editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Helen Popper)