March 16, 2019 / 4:44 PM / 8 days ago

Albanian police disperse protesters with tear gas and water cannon

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian police used tear gas and water cannon on Saturday to disperse protestors trying to break into parliament after marching twice around a nearby government building in a campaign for early elections.

Supporters of the opposition party attend an anti-government protest in front of the Parliament in Tirana, Albania March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga

The initially peaceful protest became violent when a small number in the several thousand-strong crowd began pushing and throwing stones at police protecting parliament. Some protesters and police suffered minor injuries.

The protest is the fifth since mid February as the opposition seeks fresh elections after allegations of corruption and electoral fraud. Lawmakers of the main opposition Democratic Party renounced their parliamentary seats in February but a dozen substitute lawmakers took them up.

Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said Albania would not have peace until Prime Minister Edi Rama quits to allow free and fair elections. And he took a swipe at Western diplomats calling for calm and dialogue.

“Albania is not destabilized by protests for European values. It has been destabilized by crime and the government’s embrace of it. This we need to end,” Basha said.

Earlier both the European Union, with which Albania hopes to start accession talks in late June, and the United States urged all sides to refrain from violence.

After Western calls to the opposition not to relinquish their seats in parliament were rebuffed, the EU said it backed all those in parliament who were working to advance Albania’s bid to join the EU.

“There can be no stability without democracy and without justice,” Basha said, vowing to keep protesting.

Speaking at an urban renewal project in the town of Berat, Rama made no direct reference to the protests but said his government was here to stay at least until the next national elections due in June 2021, the text of his speech sent by his office showed.

Recognizing progress in the overhaul of the judiciary to root out corrupt judges and fight organized crime, the EU said more needed to be done before local elections in June.

“It is now very urgent to overcome the current political situation by establishing a national platform of dialogue among all parties concerned, also in view of the incoming June municipal elections,” the EU added.

Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by David Holmes

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