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Albanian opposition clashes with police in anti-govt protest

A protester holds a flare as he walks alongside a police formation during an anti-government protest in the capital Tirana, Saturday, April 13, 2019. Albanian opposition parties have returned to the streets for the first time since mid-February calling for the government's resignation and an early election, as the center-right opposition accuses the leftist Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of corruption and links to organized crime, which the government denies. (AP Photo/Hektor Pustina)

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian opposition parties rallied Saturday in Tirana, calling for the Socialist government to resign and for the country to hold an early parliamentary election. Some protesters tried to storm the parliament building, but police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Thousands of opposition supporters from around the country showed up at Tirana’s main Martyrs of the Nation boulevard holding anti-government posters and slogans, throwing flares, firecrackers and other projectiles at police.

Protesters broke through the police cordon at the main entrance of the government building, but did not try to open its doors. Police refrained from using tear gas at the government building but used it when demonstrators tried to storm at the parliament building.

Scores of protesters stayed at the building stairs, shouting slogans against the prime minister.

Demonstrators stayed more than two hours in front of the parliament continuously throwing hard objects and firecrackers. A car parked nearby was put on fire. Police called on them to remain calm and launched many tear gas bombs.

Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj denounced the attacks on police, saying that five policemen were injured. Some demonstrators and a few journalists were also affected by the tear gas.

The center-right Democratic Party-led opposition accuses Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Socialist Party government of being corrupt and linked to organized crime, which the government denies.

The leader of the Democrats, Lulzim Basha, called for a transitory Cabinet without Rama to hold fresh elections, a move, which he said, “goes beyond the urgent need for an immediate political rotation.” He urged supporters to keep up daily protests.

The protest was over after more than four hours with Basha pledging to continue them.

Rama, who is on a trip abroad, deplored the attacks on police, posting on his Twitter page that police “have to cope with the physical excesses of a desperate politics.”

In protests since mid-February, opposition supporters have repeatedly tried to enter the parliament or government buildings and police have responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Opposition lawmakers have relinquished their seats in parliament. Though some of the vacant seats have been taken by other opposition candidates, the governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

In June, Albania expects an answer from the European Union whether full membership negotiations will be launched and also hold municipal elections.

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