January 26, 2011 / 3:02 PM / 8 years ago

UPDATE 1-EU bluntly tells Albania to solve crisis now

* Europe tells Albanian leaders to avoid further tension

* EU future at stake, Albanian leaders warned

* Opposition still plans Friday protest rally

(Updates throughout)

By Benet Koleka

TIRANA, Jan 26 (Reuters) - The European Union told Albania’s crisis-riven government and opposition on Wednesday to urgently “restore calm and full respect for public order and rule of law” after Friday’s deadly anti-government protests. [ID:nLDE70N0N2]

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s envoy, Miroslav Lajcak said, “I reminded your political leaders of their shared responsibility for preventing any further violence and bloodshed, the functioning of state institutions and respecting state institutions. No one is above the state institutions.”

“I made it clear that the European future for Albania depends very much on whether the political leaders choose to do what we ask them to do, and do it now,” Lajcak told reporters after meeting key leaders.

He said Ashton and EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who has in the past tried unsuccessfully to solve the prolonged row between the government and the opposition over the outcome of the 2009 elections, were ready to help.

“But it is now up to your politicians to make the first move in the right direction,” said Lajcak, formerly a top international representative in Bosnia. “They know exactly what we want them to do.”

The demonstrators’ deaths last week marked some of the worst social unrest since the late 1990s in Albania, a NATO member and an applicant to join the EU. [ID:nLDE70N0N2]

In Albania after Ashton was reported to have talked to both Prime Minister Sali Berisha and opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama, Lajcak said he would hold more meetings before he left on Wednesday.

The government said on Wednesday it had cancelled a counter demonstration planned for Saturday, but Socialists appeared determined to stage a silent march to honour the dead on Friday.

As an applicant for EU membership, Albania must fulfil numerous criteria and Brussels has lately set it an agenda of 12 points, top of which is cooperation to foster a culture of democratic cooperation and fighting corruption.

Berisha and police have refused to execute arrest warrants for six chiefs of the republican guardsmen charged with exceeding their duties when the protesters were shot last Friday outside the main government building.

Lajcak also said those responsible for the deaths should be brought to justice.

Rights group Human Rights Watch said Berisha should not interfere with the criminal investigation and opposition parties should also be careful not to incite violence.

“The prime minister’s comments and criticism of the general prosecutor threaten an independent investigation into the protesters’s deaths,” said Benjamin Ward, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. (Writing by Adam Tanner; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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