New protest called as Albania buries victims

Albania's opposition on Sunday vowed to stage new protests on Friday, a week to the day three anti-government demonstrators were shot dead here as parliament was to meet to discuss opening a probe into the incidents.

The announcement of new protests was made by opposition Socialist Party leader and Tirana mayor Edi Rama after he attended the burials of two of the victims on a day of mourning in the southern Balkan country.

"You must come to honour the victims, to condemn the violence and the crimes that cost three innocent men their lives," Rama said during one funeral service in the southern town of Fieri.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated outside the Albanian government headquarters in central Tirana on Friday. The opposition has called on the government to resign over corruption and electoral fraud.

Three people were shot dead and a fourth remains in a critical condition after clashes between police and protesters. Each side blames the other for the deaths.

Later on Sunday Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that the Albanian parliament was due to meet in the evening for an emergency session that will likely to lead to a probe into the incidents.

"The parliament which will meet Sunday evening will also discus setting up an inquiry commission for the violent incidents that marked the opposition demonstration," Berisha said in a cabinet meeting broadcast live on all Albanian channels.

"This inquiry commission should examine all the evidence to sched light on the coup d'etat staged by opposition leader Edi Rama to take power by force," the prime minister added.

Berisha also lashed out at Albania's chief prosecutor Ina Rama, no relation to the opposition leader, who issued an arrest warrant for six members of the national guard in relation with the shooting.

The arrest warrants, which the police are so far refusing to carry out, make the prosecutor "an accomplice" to opposition leader Rama, the prime minister insisted.

"The soldiers of the national guard have in no case violated the law: on the contrary they did everything to protect the state institutions,"
Berisha said.

The government and the opposition are currently entangled in a media war each blaming the other for the deaths, amid fears that a crisis which has stifled the country since a disputed general election in 2009 could worsen.

Pro-opposition media are broadcasting footage apparently showing soldiers opening fire on protesters from government buildings.

Government-controlled stations highlighted the arrests of 113 protesters for provoking clashes with the police, and have shown images of one of the demonstrators with a gun tucked into his waistband.

In an apparent gesture to the international community which has called on all sides to remain calm Berisha announced that an anti-violence rally by his supporters would be held Saturday instead of Wednesday.

"I want to guarantee all partner countries of Albania that have voiced concern about the situation that Saturday's demonstration will be peaceful and without incident," Berisha said.

In Rome, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged the Albanian opposition to "cooperate" with the government.

"We would like the opposition to cooperate with the majority in the country's interest," he told the Italian news agency ANSA Sunday, describing the Albanian justice's probe in Friday's deaths as "the right response."

"Europe certainly must as always condemn violence, as it has done, but at the same time it cannot question elections that international observers deemed were legitimately held."

Albania has been in political deadlock since its last elections in July 2009. The opposition refused to recognise the results, blocking legislation and reforms in parliament.

Since the collapse of the hardline communist regime in 1991, elections in the country have often been marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The current impasse is the longest political crisis the country has faced.

Dozens of Albanian expatriates gathered in central Athens on Sunday to protest the deadly crackdown on anti-government protests in Tirana and chanted: "Down with the dictatorship of Berisha", according to an AFP journalist.
 

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