Clashes between protestors and police have left 12 people injured in Tirana this morning, after the government started to demolish some 33 homes to make way for a suspicious project to construct the Outer Ring Road.
Residents of the so-called Astir area have been protesting against the action for over one year as the government has refused to compensate many of them for their homes and properties that have stood there for over twenty years.
Among the properties to be demolished today, 21 have been expropriated while the remaining 12 have been disqualified from the legalisation process and the owners will not receive financial compensation, according to the government. Many of the homes in the area were built illegally during a time of social and political unrest, but the government had created a legalisation process whereby residents, against a cost of thousands of euros, would legalise their properties.
Just over one year ago, the government announced that some 317 plus houses, inhabited by over 600 families would be demolished to make way for a road-widening project that would cost an unprecedented EUR 20 million per kilometre.
The tender was awarded to Dunwell Haberman, a ghost company that was found to have used fraudulent documents and fake signatures to bid for the project. Withing weeks after its establishment, the government awarded the fraudulent company two tenders worth EUR 30 million.
When the scandal became public, the government cancelled the tender, and later awarded it to another of its favorite companies – Salillari shpk.
Shortly after the project was announced, the government stopped all legislation procedures and told residents they would not be compensated for their homes and businesses. At least 163 properties have been impacted by the blocking of the legalisation process, resulting in hundreds of families being at risk of losing their homes with no financial reimbursement.
Since then, residents have been protesting daily against what they consider to be the illegal demolition of their community.
Exit has previously interviewed a number of residents, all of whom have legalisation documents, have paid applicable taxes, and are up to date on electricity and electric bills, but who are set to be made homeless if the project goes ahead.
This morning as diggers, construction workers and police moved in, residents pushed back resulting in the use of tear gas against them.
The police have reported that protesting inhabitants threw stones and Molotov cocktails and that five officers have been sent to the hospital. They also said that some seven citizens are being treated for injuries. In addition to this, the police have called on protestors who do not live in the area, to encourage inhabitants not to attack them.
A number of other citizens who resisted the forced eviction have been arrested according to reports from journalists and citizens on site.
In addition to this, the police arrested well-known activist and professor of communications and journalism Ervin Goci, and escorted him with force away from the area.
Former Opposition MPs who have been supporting inhabitants throughout their struggle also protested with them today.
Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj wrote on social media that the inhabitants of Astir were “sabotaging Tirana” and added that the Opposition parties who support them are “built on the culture of opposition and blocking”. The Mayor claims that these people are “blocking” the city’s development by resisting the demolition of their homes.
President Meta spoke out in support of citizens, writing on Facebook that “the repeated violence against the inhabitants of the New Ring Road, who are protesting in defence of their homes and property, is unacceptable. The arrogance [shown] against the misery and trauma caused to these families for months in a row in intolerable.”
One inhabitant told Exit “It was horrible- they threw a lot of tear gas and people were jumping from rooftops. They have gone but they will come again”.