AP

Albanian opposition disrupts parliament, supporters rally

Feb 15, 2023, 3:35 PM | Updated: Feb 16, 2023, 6:10 am

A man rides a horse during an anti-government rally outside the parliament in Tirana, Albania, Thur...

A man rides a horse during an anti-government rally outside the parliament in Tirana, Albania, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters hold one more anti-government protest accusing it of alleged corruption and economic poverty. (AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

(AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian opposition supporters protested anew outside the country’s Parliament Thursday as lawmakers demanding the government’s resignation for alleged corruption tried to disrupt the house’s session, blowing whistles and crowding the podium.

In their third protest in a week, hundreds of people — including a man who arrived on horseback from a northern area — gathered outside Parliament’s main entrance and some threw smoke bombs at police guarding the building. But the turnout and intensity of the crowd was smaller than during a similar protest on Monday.

No arrests or injuries were reported, and protesters left after two hours while opposition lawmakers inside continued to disrupt the session.

The protests are being organized by the center-right Democratic Party of former president and prime minister Sali Berisha, and the left-wing Freedom Party of former president Ilir Meta.

The opposition accuses Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama and his Cabinet of corruption, links to organized crime and poor economic policies, and blames Rama for the exodus of young Albanians seeking jobs in Western European countries.

The government denies that. It argues that it has kept inflation low compared to elsewhere in Europe, and has subsidized electricity bills for families and small businesses.

The opposition set March 3 as a day of a national protest.

The same day an appeals court will decide who should lead the main opposition Democrats — Berisha or his predecessor Lulzim Basha.

The 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.

The governing Socialists on Thursday accepted an opposition request for a debate with Rama, who the opposition claims corrupted Charles McGonigal, a former high-ranking FBI counterintelligence official. McGonigal 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 several times 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.

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