By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
TIRANA/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– The United States and the European Union are among those appealing for calm in Albania, after at least three people were killed and dozens were injured in anti-government protests in the capital Tirana. Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha says he will not allow a similar overthrow of his government as in Tunisia, but the opposition has vowed more demonstrations.
The developments came as news emerged Sunday, January 23, that arrest warrants have been issued against some six members of the National Guard, who are under the command of the Interior Ministry, for their alleged involvement in shootings. The Tirana diplomatic missions of the European Union, United States and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said earlier in a joint statement that they deeply regret the casualties in Friday’s anti-government protests.
They also call for a compromise. That seems difficult. Supporters of the opposition Socialists accuse the government of financial wrong doing and vote rigging during the 2009 elections. Tensions further increased this week when the country’s deputy prime minister, Ilir Meta, resigned amid an alleged corruption scandal.
Albania’s Prime Minister Sali Berisha has accused his opponents of attempting a “Tunisia-style uprising,” a reference to the bloody overthrow of Tunisia’s president in which scores were killed. Mr. Berisha said Albania would not pass into a similar “state of emergency.” He has told Albanians in televised remarks that “scenarios of violence will not be tolerated.”
But those watching the recent demonstrations have already described them as the worst violence to erupt in the volatile Balkan nation in over a decade. Video footage of Friday’s protest showed that shots were fired as security forces tried to push back an estimated 20,000 demonstrators. Protesters shouted words such as “get out, get out” as they gathered outside Conservative Prime Minister Berisha’s office in the capital. Other protesters carried red-and-black Albanian flags.
A tense calm has returned to the streets of Tirana, but the leader of the Socialist Party, Tirana Mayor Edi Rama, vowed the opposition would hold more demonstrations after observing a day of mourning for those who died.
Rama has made clear he does not want to wait till the scheduled elections in 2013. He says the opposition will not tolerate what he calls “an intolerable regime” of thieves ruling Europe’s poorest nation. It was not immediately clear what impact the clashes would have on foreign Christian mission groups active in the country. They were briefly forced to leave Albania in 1997 following the collapse of a pyramid investment scheme, when Albanians took to the streets to topple the government and 2000 people were killed.
The latest stand-off has underscored international concerns over the country’s democratic credentials. The European Union already rejected Albania’s application to become an official candidate to join the organization, saying it should first fight corruption and establish a functioning democracy. (Part of this BosNewsLife News story is aired via the Voice of America (VOA) network. BosNewsLife NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals, especially in (former) Communist and other autocratic nations).