Thousands of Albanians joined opposition’ protest against the government of Prime Minister Edi Rama today in Tirana.
Protesters called for the prime minister to step down, following several government scandals including corruption, drug trafficking, and collusion with criminal gangs in buying votes. Their main poster read “This is the end of the thugs”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Edi Rama had staged a rally in the southern city of Vlora, where he was elected a member of parliament. He met with public officers and Socialist Party supporters to present the achievements of the Municipality of Vlora.
The Ministry of Interior had deployed 1,300 police forces to secure the area around Rama’s office. Additional measures ordered by the prime minister included the covering of two artworks outside his office in order to keep them safe from protesters.
Protesters peacefully gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s office at 11 am. Some of the angry citizens started to throw flares on the building. They were reportedly from the Tirana Astir area, where they have been protesting for months against government’s decision to demolish their homes and open the way to a corrupt project for the Outer Ring Road.
The police loosened the chain and let protesters approach the entrance of the government building. They kicked the main door and tried to dismantle the scaffolding that protected an artwork installed by Rama. Special police forces standing on the roof of the building responded with tear gas and water cannons. Several protesters were injured. The same scene repeated itself several times in a cat-and-mouse game for about two hours- police let protesters approach the building, only to disperse them through tear gas and water cannons. Protesters smashed one of Rama’s art installations- a mushroom.
The police repeatedly called on protesters to disperse, informing them that they were committing criminal acts.
The opposition leader Lulzim Basha said that police had provoked the protesters by breaking the cordon and opening the way to violent acts.
“The Minister of Interior knows very well that breaking the police cordon would open the way to such scenes. As you can see, the police just stand there idly because they have a scenario to incite and stimulate violence.
The slightest mass pressure, which is only natural- they are the angry citizens of the Outer Ring Road, whose homes they [the government] went to demolish and steal €18 million- unexpectedly we see the police cordon opening up. ”
Basha called on the citizens to continue their protest.
“The protest was called with one purpose: transitional government and snap elections. This is the biggest protest in the last 30 years. No protester was here to commit violent acts. They were incited and provoked by the police. I call on the citizens to stand united for their rights. It is the citizens who will decide when the protest will be over.”
The opposition called on the police to arrest those involved in criminal acts. Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) leader Monika Kryemadhi emphasized the overall peaceful nature of the protest and called on the police to arrests law offenders.
Prime Minister Edi Rama also reacted on Twitter, telling the mushroom artwork artist that he was sorry:
“The Mushroom, an artwork by Carsten Holler donated to the PM’s office following his visit to our country, after which the famous modern artist turned into an ambassador of Albania and Albanians. Sorry, Carsten, this is not Albania and this is not who Albanians are.”
In their statements regarding the protest, the US Embassy and the EU Delegation in Tirana mainly focused on the violent acts:
“The United States Embassy strongly condemns the violence and destruction taking place during today’s protests in Tirana. We support the right of citizens to peacefully protest, but the damaging of public property and violence are not acceptable. We urge all parties to show better restraint and restore calm. We call on all political parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that the situation becomes peaceful and constructive.”
“The European Union Delegation and Member States Embassies in Tirana call on all sides to show immediate restraint. The right of the citizens to express themselves through peaceful protest is a core value of a modern European democracy. However, damaging public property and resorting to violence are not acceptable. We urge all sides to do their utmost to avoid further violence and disruption.”
The protest went on for five hours with no speeches taking place. Opposition leader Lulzim Basha thanked the citizens, he called on the government to step down, and informed that the next protest will take place on Thursday, February 21st. The tens of thousands of citizens joining opposition’s call to protest against the government today dispersed peacefully.