Albanian opposition leads anti-government protest

Feb 10, 2023, 4:36 PM | Updated: Feb 11, 2023, 7:11 am

People march during an anti-government protest rally in Tirana, Albania, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. T...

People march during an anti-government protest rally in Tirana, Albania, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023. Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters on Saturday held an anti-government protest accusing it of alleged corruption and economic poverty. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

(AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Thousands of supporters of Albania’s political opposition took part in an anti-government protest Saturday, calling for the prime minister’s resignation for alleged corruption and mishandling of the small Balkan nation’s economy.

Sali Berisha, a former president and prime minister of Albania who leads the center-right Democratic Party, and former President Ilir Meta, who leads the left-wing Freedom Party, were among the protesters who gathered in front of the main government building with banners and shouted for Prime Minister Edi Rama of the ruling center-left Socialist Party to resign.

“Time has come for this revolution to bring out the corrupt money and turn them into higher salaries and pensions,” Berisha said.

Protest participants hurled smoke bombs at the main entrance of the government building, where hundreds of police officers formed a line to protect the building.

Rama’s critics accused him of corruption and hold him responsible him for the exodus of young Albanians who have left to pursue jobs in Western European countries. Rama says his Cabinet has kept inflation low compared to elsewhere in Europe, and has subsidized electricity for families and small businesses.

The opposition also accuses Rama of corrupting Charles McGonigal, a former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official, who is accused in the United States of hiding from the FBI key details of a 2017 trip he took to Albania with a former Albanian intelligence official who is alleged to have given him at least $225,000.

McGonigal met with Albania’s prime minister and urged caution in awarding oil field drilling licenses in the country to Russian front companies.

Rama has acknowledged meeting with McGonigal but denied allegations of giving him money or preferential treatment.

Not all opposition Democrats were present at the protest as Berisha’s party has been plagued by infighting after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in 2021 barred Berisha and his close relatives from entering the U.S. for “corrupt acts that undermined democracy” during his 2005-2013 tenure as prime minister.

Britain did the same last year.

Berisha called for another protest at the parliament on Monday.

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