Albanian opposition vows new protests after sober memorial

Three Albanian men were shot dead at an anti-government protest a week ago.

Tirana: Tens of thousands of Albanians held a sober rally to remember three people killed in an anti-government demonstration last week and the opposition vowed to keep up its peaceful protests.

During a sober protest lasting an hour and a half, opposition supporters marched in silence past the spot in front of the government buildings where the three men were killed, laying wreaths and lighting candles.

Loudspeakers set up on a stage, which had pictures of the fatalities with the word "Justice" written on them in English and Albanian, played Mozart`s Requiem.

After the rally opposition leader and Tirana Mayor Edi Rama said they would keep up demonstrations but insisted he rejected all forms of violence.

"We will continue our peaceful protest to call for the end of this regime (of Prime Minister Sali Berisha) and open a new chapter but it will be up to the Albanian people to say who should write this (chapter)," said Rama.

"Early elections are the only way out of this situation" he told reporters, stressing that the "current situation in Albanian is very fragile".

The opposition went ahead with the protest in defiance of international appeals and police warnings, insisting it would be a peaceful gathering to honour the dead.

Last Friday, tens of thousands of people turned out for a protest rally organised by Rama, calling on the government to resign over allegations of corruption and electoral fraud.

Clashes between demonstrators and the security forces left three people dead and a fourth critically wounded. Both sides blame each other for the deaths.

"There was no room for politics in today`s protest, but the opposition will continue with demonstrations because the situation is chaotic," 28-year-old photographer Erjon, who did not give his last name, said.

"Taking to the street remains the only option to fight the corrupt government that kills its citizens," he added.

Organisers put the turn-out at 200,000 protesters, while journalists estimated it at several tens of thousands. Police would give no figure.

People poured into the downtown area near the government buildings, bringing traffic in central Tirana to a standstill.

After the march, demonstrators dispersed under the watchful eye of hundreds of police in anti-riot gear.

"The opposition proved that it can conduct a decent and peaceful rally," Arbian Gjepolli, 41, said.

Berisha`s party, which has said that last week`s violent protests were a bid by Rama to stage a coup, also criticised Friday`s demonstration.

"Today Edi Rama returned to the scene of the crime, he wanted to benefit politically from the deaths," Democratic Party lawmaker Aldo Bumci said.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha on Wednesday cancelled a pro-government rally planned for Saturday in response to international pressure to calm the situation.

Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Evaldas Ignatavicius was in Tirana on Friday on behalf of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

He met President Bamir Topi and urged all political forces to find a solution for the crisis, according to a statement from the presidency.

This crisis has been running ever since the opposition disputed the results from the June 2009 Parliamentary Election.

Albania, a NATO member since spring 2009, submitted an application for EU membership almost two years ago, but has not even received formal candidate status yet.

Brussels has warned Tirana that the ongoing deadlock is one of the obstacles to progress on the path to EU membership.

Bureau Report

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