From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Albanian Opposition to Hold Another Anti–Government Protest Today

Following Saturday night’s anti-government protests, the opposition has scheduled another one for today at 6pm.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the center of Tirana to protest against Prime Minister Edi Rama. The fourth national protest since February, and one of over 10 smaller ones in the last few months, the protesters called for the resignation of Rama, as well as electoral reform, a transitional government, and free and fair elections.

Their demands come after wiretaps were published that allegedly showed evidence of collusion between senior government officials and criminal gangs to buy votes in the 2017 General Elections. The Opposition parties have refused to take part in the upcoming local elections in June, until an investigation is conducted and their demands are met. So far, the Rama government has not taken any action over the allegations and no investigation into vote buying has been announced.

Whilst organized by the Opposition parties, an increased number of civil society members and non-politically aligned citizens has been noted in the protests. Many of those involved in Astir protests, National Theater protests, student protests, and other ongoing national protests have been spotted in attendance.

A handful of protesters on Saturday threw firecrackers and Molotov cocktails at the facade of the Prime Minister’s Office. This caused some damage to the exterior of the building.

Tear gas was used once again on the crowd- firstly by the Prime Minister’s Office, and then after the protests moved to the Parliament area. Multiple protesters suffered respiratory problems and another TV crew member– Alban Xhokaxhi of Ora News was reported to be hospitalized.

Water cannons were deployed as well but two witnesses explained how it was not just water that was being fired from them.

“It came out like water but then was like a gas, water doesn’t behave like that- it burnt my eyes and my skin”, one witness explained.

Most modern water cannons are also capable of having tear gas added to the stream, thus appearing like relatively harmless water, but delivering serious injury to those in its path.

The Albanian government’s use of tear gas on civilians has been widely criticized, especially after a number of journalists were injured during last months’ protests. Several international human rights and media freedom watchdogs reported on the issue, as well as the Albanian ombudsman, calling for restraint.

The police have also been criticized for the attack and beating of Sahit Dollapi, a Democratic Party leader.

Video footage shows an unarmed and calm Dollapi, alone yet surrounded by police in riot gear. Following recent heart surgery, he was wearing a gas mask to protect him from the clouds of tear gas that had been deployed. Video footage shows a policeman forcefully removing his mask and then preventing him from putting it back on.

The video then shows around 10 police move towards Dollapi. He ran and tripped and was then set upon and beaten with batons by multiple officers. Dollapi was then detained and held at the Police Directorate whilst being refused medical care and access to the Ombudsman- both of which are illegal. He was finally transferred to hospital under heavy guard where it was ascertained he had injuries to his leg as well as a dislocated shoulder.

Interior Minister Sandër Lleshaj gave a public comment yesterday and said that the police had behaved in a professional manner during the protest, although he admitted the poor handling of Dollapi’s detention.

Police detained 84 protesters in the hours following the protests and on Sunday, crowds gathered outside of the Police Directorate asking for their release.

Protestors will congregate again outside of the Prime Minister’s Office on the main boulevard at 6pm.