TIRANA (Reuters) - Some 100,000 supporters of Albania’s opposition Socialist Party paid homage in silence to three men shot dead at an anti-government protest a week ago and dispersed calmly on Friday after a two-hour procession.
The silent march down the main street near the offices of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, scene of violent clashes last week, was led by relatives of the dead crying loudly, followed by Socialist leader Edi Rama.
Holding red roses and carnations and wearing mourning armbands, the silent participants, many in tears, laid flowers, touched the pictures of the dead protesters in front of the government building and lit candles along the curbstone.
Larger-than-life pictures of the three hung across the boulevard along the metal gate of the government’s office near the spots on the pavement where they were shot and killed after shots rang out from the courtyard of the premier’s office.
“Justice,” was written in big letters below their pictures. Police, backed by Berisha, are refusing to execute arrest detention orders for six chiefs of the republican guardsmen for exceeding their authority in relation to the deaths.
The Socialists maintained security at the latest rally, which they said was attended by 200,000 supporters, after state police refused to secure it, deeming it a “threat to national security and public order.”
With Mozart’s Requiem playing and the mourning televised across the nation, supporters walked back in silence, taking off their armbands and lighting cigarettes.
Earlier, Rama asked for “respect and solidarity” for the police, saying they wanted to unite people, not divide them.
The demonstrators’ deaths a week ago on Friday outside the main government building marked some of the worst social unrest since the late 1990s in the impoverished Balkan nation, a NATO member and applicant to join the European Union.
The European Union, the United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) sought to tone down the parties’ increasingly confrontational rhetoric.
After Berisha canceled a rally by his supporters against violence, the EU and Washington also urged the Socialists to re-consider. Now that it has ended peacefully, both sides will be under strong international pressure to negotiate.
Albania’s political scene has been tense since the end of the June 2009 parliamentary elections which Berisha’s Democrats won by a small margin because the Socialists have failed to recognize the results.
Accusations that former Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta, whose Socialist Integration Movement party is the lynchpin of the ruling coalition, had asked for kickbacks from a minister brought calls for the government to quit over corruption.
Editing by Adam Tanner and Philippa Fletcher