July 5, 2018 / 9:12 PM / 10 months ago

Albanian actors protest as parliament backs National Theatre demolition

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian actors and activists rallied on Thursday to demand the government halt a project to demolish the National Theatre in Tirana, but the ruling Socialists pushed the plan through parliament.

They protested in front of parliament as lawmakers debated a law allowing a private company to build a new theater on the site of the 78-year-old building and several skyscrapers close by.

Demonstrators held placards saying “I am the theater” while a youth performed lines from William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, warning Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama would be “hoist with his own petard” if he let the demolition go ahead.

“Parliament should think twice before it bites our theater, culture and history,” said actor Bujar Asqeriu.

“This draft law is giving public land to a private company and should be repealed. The president should not endorse the grabbing of public property,” Neritan Licaj, another actor, said.

Culture Minister Mirela Kumbaro has described the Italian-style building as a health and safety hazard while Finance Minister Arben Ahmetaj said the state would spend nothing but get eight times more space in the new multi-hall theater building.

The government has justified similar public-private partnerships by saying it lacks funds. Another company is building a soccer stadium with a hotel tower, leading to critics accuse Rama of “towermania”.

Embracing the actors’ five-month-long protest, opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said the attempt to demolish the old theater showed “Rama’s greed for money by grabbing public land to get his own cut”.

Rama denies any wrongdoing in the projects.

Opposition lawmakers threw their voting cards at Rama and walked out of the chamber after the Socialists passed the bill two hours before midnight.

Protesters will “defend the building physically”, activist Ervin Goci said. “We shall stick to our cause and it is up to them to come and use force against us.”

Reporting by Benet Koleka, editing by David Stamp

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