Today, the Albanian opposition is holding another protest against Prime Minister Edi Rama.
A few minutes before the start of the protest, President Ilir Meta announced his decision to cancel the local election date – June 30, 2019 – following the inability for the majority and opposition to have a dialogue over the political crisis. He added that the decision and constitutional arguments for the cancellation will be public on Monday, June 10.
Immediately after, Prime Minister Rama dismissed the President’s decision, replying that local elections are going to be held on June 30.
Today’s protest is the eighth in a row since the opposition left their parliamentary seats in February. They accuse Prime Minister Rama of vote-buying in in collusion with criminal groups during the 2017 general election.
Albania’s opposition demands Rama’s resignation, a temporary government and early general elections.
The latest protest comes three days after the German newspaper Bild published wiretaps of the Albanian Electiongate, allegedly evidencing collusion between high Socialist Party (PS) officials and the boss of a criminal group.
Most notably, some of the conversations took place between Mayor of Durrës Vangjush Dako, also head of the Socialist Party for the Durrës Region, and Astrit Avdylaj, the boss of an international drug trafficking criminal organization, and his gang members.
The wiretaps published by Bild are part of a prosecution investigation into the Avdylaj criminal group based in Durrës, the second largest city in Albania.
Conversations appear to corroborate earlier allegations of the opposition that Mayor Dako had colluded with the Avdylajs in manipulating the 2017 parliamentary elections through vote-buying, voter intimidation and funding of the Socialist Party campaign. They also show the crime boss to have direct access and control over heads of several local government institutions, who provide favors to him, including revocation of business fines.
Perhaps in the most damning revelation, the tapes allegedly show that the Avdylaj crime organization was capable to include its own people in the Socialist Party’s parliamentary and mayoral candidates’ lists—at least one of them managed to be elected and now is an MP.
In reactions to the publication of wiretaps, Prime Minister Edi Rama and his PS embarked in a media campaign to defend Mayor Dako and minimize the relevance of wiretaps.
Vangjush Dako is still the Mayor of Durrës, head of the PS in the second largest city in Albania, as well as head of the PS campaign for the local elections of June 30.
Earlier today, several embassies in Tirana called against violence during protests.
The police warned citizens who did not participate in the protest to stay away from the city center. It also warned organizers not to allow the use of dangerous materials in the protests, otherwise they would be held accountable. In earlier protests, firecrackers, flares – and even Molotov cocktails in one protest – were used.
Police said it has installed high-definition cameras and stronger streetlights to make sure that those engaged in violence are detained after the protest.
The opposition denounced the police statement as an attempt to intimidating citizens, protesters and opposition. They said the protest will be peaceful.
Protesters are gathering in front of Prime Minister’s Office, calling on Edi Rama to resign. They are holding banners reading “Rama, go!”
Speaking to a crowd of tens of thousands, opposition leader Lulzim Basha said the President’s decision to postpone local elections was a result of protesters’ call for democratic values.
Basha said this was a small victory but Prime Minister Edi Rama’s resignation remains their non-negotiable demand.
He focused on the latest publication of wiretaps, claiming that the collusion between the Socialist Party and criminals in manipulating the 2017 general election was clear.
Mentioning several criminal groups, Basha alleged that they had evident links to the Rama government. He added that the opposition could not enter elections in a political race against these criminal groups.
He further stated that the opposition was struggling for Albanians to be provided with the same values of Western democracies. While Rama and his government has been captured by crime, Basha claimed, the opposition will return the power to citizens. Rama’s resignation is the first step toward this aim, he added.
The opposition leader repeated accusations against Rama and his ministers for having turned the country into a cannabis plantation, and now into a major hub of cocaine and heroin. The Socialist Party provided criminals with direct access to the parliament and government offices, Basha claimed. He added that Rama handed the country’s resources to a handful of oligarchs. Basha blamed Prime Minister Rama for all these alleged criminal activities, stating that “he is the ringleader of the criminal group”.
Following Basha’s speech, protesters walked to the parliament building, where they threw flares and firecrackers. Police responded with tear gas.
In a short speech at the headquarters of the opposition Democratic Party at the end of the protest, Basha said the resistance against the corrupt Rama government was stronger than ever.
He repeated opposition’s non-negotiable demand for Prime Minister Rama to resign, and assured protesters that their struggle for democratic values was nearing a successful end.