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Anti-gov't protesters try to storm Albania parliament

Published March 16,2019
A masked protester holds stones as he stands in front of riot police during a demonstration held to demand the resignation of the Albanian Prime Minister, on March 16, 2019, in Tirana outside the Parliament. (AFP photo)

Albanian opposition supporters clashed with police while trying to storm the parliament building Saturday to protest the government, which they accuse of being corrupt and linked to organized crime.

Thousands of supporters of the center-right Democratic Party-led opposition gathered on the capital's main boulevard in front of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama's office to demand his resignation. Rama later called the protest "immature" and said it does not help Albania's progress toward European Union membership.

Protesters, led by Democratic leader Lulzim Basha, then walked to the parliament building and tried to break through police lines while throwing smoke bombs and other objects. Police dispersed them with tear gas and water cannons.

Police said three officers and some demonstrators were injured.

The opposition, whose lawmakers have relinquished their seats in parliament, declines to speak with Rama. It has asked for a transitory Cabinet without him to prepare for an early election. The governing Socialists now have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

"We have no alternative but to protest until we bring back democracy and rule of law," Basha told The Associated Press before the rally.

President Ilir Meta urged the opposition to protest peacefully. The U.S. and the EU have warned the opposition not to incite violence and urged them to sit down for talks with the government.

Speaking on a tour ahead of local elections in June, the prime minister said his governing majority "has got the trust of the majority of the population."

"Such kind of convulsions, blockings, obstacles and signs of immaturity ... do not make easy our road toward our European partners," Rama said of the protests, speaking from the city of Berat, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Tirana, the capital.

Albania hopes to get the EU's approval in June to launch membership negotiations.