* Three dead in worst unrest in more than a decade
* President and opposition leader appeal for calm
* Police fire tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets
* EU, U.S. and OSCE call for restraint on all sides
(Updates with PM's reaction, recasts)
By Benet Koleka
TIRANA, Jan 21 Three men were shot dead as
protesters battled police at an anti-government rally in the
Albanian capital on Friday, in what Prime Minister Sali Berisha
called an opposition attempt to foment a Tunisia-style uprising.
Supporters of the opposition Socialist Party, which refuses
to accept the result of a 2009 election, protested outside
Berisha's office against what they see as official corruption
and electoral fraud.
Some pelted the building and police with stones, sticks and
umbrellas. Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water
cannon and stun grenades. Smoke billowed from burning cars, some
of them police vehicles.
"The bastard children of Albania's own Ben Alis conceived
Tunisian scenarios ... for you citizens of Albania," Berisha
said, comparing his Socialist foes with ousted Tunisian
President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali.
Socialist Party leader Edi Rama said the crowd was provoked
and police had behaved unprofessionally.
The violence was the worst since the European Union
applicant country spun out of control after the storming of the
government building after the death of a lawmaker in 1998.
"Albania is not in a state of emergency and will not pass
into a state of emergency. But scenarios of violence will not be
tolerated," Berisha said.
Alfred Gega, deputy director of Tirana's Military Hospital,
told reporters three civilians had died, one with a gunshot
wound to the head and the other two with bullet wounds to the
chest from close range.
Some 33 protesters and 17 policemen were wounded. A civilian
and a policeman were in critical condition, Gega added.
Protestors packed the main boulevard. Witnesses estimated
the crowd size at around 20,000; the opposition reported there
were more than 10 times as many.
"I call for calm and maturity," President Bamir Topi said
after the violence erupted. "Albania needs to heal its wounds,
not to open new ones."
After about three hours of clashes police in riot gear
dispersed the crowd and took control of the boulevard. Live
television pictures showed police chasing stray lone protesters
and beating them with truncheons.
TRADING BLAME CHARGES
The opposition Socialists called for new elections after
refusing to accept the results of the June 2009 parliamentary
polls, which Berisha's Democratic Party won by a wafer-thin
margin. Talks to break the deadlock have repeatedly failed.
Berisha's ally Ilir Meta, head of his junior coalition
partner, resigned as deputy prime minister a week ago after
being accused of corruption. Tension had escalated this week
after sharp exchanges of accusations in parliament.
"My call for the so-called premier is to refrain from taking
our society and country further down a blind alley," Rama said.
Protesters would observe mourning on Saturday for the dead, and
later hold more protests, which would be peaceful, he said.
In a joint statement, the Tirana missions of the EU, United
States and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe
deeply regretted the casualties and called for a compromise.
"Violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified and
should be avoided. We urgently appeal for calm and restraint on
all sides and to abstain from provocations," they said.
The European Union rejected Albania's application last year
for the status of official candidate to join the bloc, urging it
to fight corruption and establish a functioning democracy.
(Editing by Andrew Roche and Peter Graff)