Opposition rallies again to get Albanian PM to quit

Opposition supporters use light from their cellphones during an anti-government protest, calling on Prime Minister Edi Rama to step down, in Tirana, Albania, June 8, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga

TIRANA (Reuters) – Supporters of Albanian opposition parties rallied on Saturday to ask Prime Minister Edi Rama to quit and pave the way to fresh polls, dispersing after throwing firecrackers and flares to police who responded with water jets and tear gas.

Holding posters saying “Rama Go” or “Break your neck!”, several thousand protesters rejoiced when Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the June 30 local elections, which they had boycotted, would be cancelled by presidential decree.

“Our battle will continue until the departure of Edi Rama,” Basha told his supporters while closing their eighth national rally since February, when his party’s lawmakers cut ties to parliament. “His departure is not negotiable,” Basha added.

The rally took place days after a German paper published leaked tapes showing how an accused drug trafficker in Durres told Socialist officials how he planned to coerce opposition backers to vote for them and help a friend become a lawmaker.

Basha says the tapes vindicate their claims that Rama’s Socialists stole the 2017 parliamentary elections to get a second term in power, hence Rama should resign, and also justified their decision to boycott the June local elections.

Rama said the tapes were leaked by prosecutors who had failed to end their investigation and taken the tapes to their party, the Democrats, to be used politically and blackmail the government.

Despite calls by the EU and the United States for talks to solve the impasse, the two sides stuck to their positions, and Rama even started campaigning for the local vote without the opposition parties, an oddity even for Albania’s chaotic democracy.

The European Commission has urged the European Council to approve accession talks for Albania and North Macedonia when it meets in end-June. Not all countries are keen on saying yes.

Albanian President Ilir Meta announced shortly before the protest he had decided to cancel the polls since the crisis “undermined every chance to start accession talks with the European Union.”

Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli

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