Albanians Rally Peacefully as Opposition MPs Quit Parliament

February 21, 2019
Concerns that Thursday's opposition rally could end in widespread violence ebbed as supporters rallied peacefully in Tirana – while MPs delivered their resignation letters to the country's parliament.
Opposition protesters throw flares while police officers protect Albania’s parliament on 21 February 2019. Photo: Gjergj Erebara/BIRN

Opposition supporters in Albania hailed the decision of their MPs to quit the country’s parliament, as the European Commission and European Parliament criticized what they called decisions that “undermine democracy”.

Opposition parties summoned their protesters on Thursday morning to near the parliament in Tirana, where police deployed about 1,000 officers, equipped with gas masks and some in full anti-riot gear.

Police warned on Wednesday about “plans to storm the parliament” and ordered telecommunication companies to switch off signals at the area of the protest.

But no violence occurred and opposition supporters created their own cordon to separate the protesters from the police.

Some youngsters threw flares at the police before Lulzim Basha, head of the main opposition Democratic Party, led protesters toward the parliament, a few hundred metres away and near the Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office, which protesters attacked last Saturday.

As police struggled to reposition forces on Tirana’s Heroes of the Nation boulevard, the protesters dispersed peacefully.

Announcing more protests, Basha told his supporters: “Today, our journey of hope begins. Today we put a padlock on the parliament of the crime.”

Before the protest, Albania’s US and EU allies issued several statements calling for peace. The EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn issued a joint statement.

“In view of the protests in Albania today, we reaffirm the right of citizens to engage in peaceful demonstrations as an essential feature and a core value of democracy, but we strongly denounce any rhetoric by political leaders calling for violence,” it read.

The US embassy said: “The United States urges all participants in today’s demonstrations to peacefully exercise their right of assembly and reject violence, and calls on the government and security forces to practice restraint”.

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, added: “All parties should refrain from violent rhetoric and violence on the streets.”

Albania has entered unknown political territory after the opposition decided to relinquish its MPs’ mandates. Previously, opposition parties had boycotted the parliament but not given up their mandates.

Gjergj Erebara