U.S. envoy urges Albanian parties to drop rally plans after fatal clashes

10:24, January 26, 2011      

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The United States envoy to Albania on Tuesday called on rival Albanian political parties to drop their protest plans to ease tensions that are running high after a deadly anti-government protest last week.

"I hope that the two political leaders, the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, will consider postponing or canceling their scheduled rallies," said U.S. Ambassador to Albania Alexander Arvizu in a statement.

Three people were killed and dozens more were wounded in last Friday's protest outside the prime minister's office building in Tirana, organized by the opposition Socialist Party led by Edi Rama, also the mayor of Tirana.

Since then, both the opposition and Prime Minister Sali Berisha said they would hold separate rally this week, with the opposition saying they will continue a fresh protest on Friday and the government's on Saturday.

Last Friday's protest by the opposition over what it sees as government corruption and election fraud by the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha turned into a violent riot between police and protesters for over three hours.

Protesters pelted the government building and the police lining before it with stones, sticks, umbrellas and whatever they could get their hands on. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullet, stun grenade and water cannons to disperse them.

Three people died from gunshots in the chaos during the demonstration. One was shot in the head, and the other two in the chest.

The office of Albania's prosecutor general has issued six arrest warrants for the national guards suspected of playing a role in the killings, but they had not yet been acted on. Berisha' s ruling Democratic Party condemned the prosecutor's move, saying they had no evidence.

Prosecutor General Ina Rama -- no relations with the opposition leader -- made an appeal to the United States on Tuesday, asking it to provide technical support in the investigation into the deadly riots.

"I will look and examine very carefully the Prosecutor General' s letter to me. I expect that the response will be favorable and positive, although the details will need to be worked out," Arvizu said in a statement.

The opposition and the ruling coalition government have been at loggerheads since the 2009 general election. The opposition accused the ruling government of rigging the election and refused to accept its results.

The tension came to a head this month when the Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister Ilir Meta was forced from office over corruption allegations.

The opposition has been calling for the resignation of the coalition government led by Sali Berisha and early election, which is due in 2013. Berisha rejected the demand.

Source: Xinhua

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