Albania demonstrators clash with police in road toll row

TIRANA (Reuters) - A big crowd angered by new charges on the main artery linking 7Albania to Kosovo pelted police with stones and set the toll booths on fire on Saturday, television images showed.

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Thousands of residents of the northern town of Kukes had converged on the area to demand the scrapping of the tolls. The government said on Thursday that lower charges would be set for frequent users.

“This is theft,” an angry protester told reporters.

“This tax damages all the Albanians in Kukes and Dardania (Kosovo),” opponents said of the fees, ranging from 2.5 euros for a motorcycle to 22.5 euros ($27.72) for heavy trucks.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the violence against property and police would be punished.

“The violators and those who inspired them should stop thinking they will triumph over the law,” Rama said.

Earlier this week when the tolls were imposed, Kosovo truckers emblazoned their vehicles with banners saying that, in effect, a new border had been imposed on the road meant to unite Albania and the mainly ethnic Albanian Kosovo.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said the tolls were “excessive”.

Work on the road, which crosses mountainous terrain, is not completely finished and Rama said those who used it should pay.

Opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said taxpayers already paid a road tax.

Reporting By Benet Koleka; Editing by Andrew Bolton