Two reported shot dead as protests erupt in Albania

Two reported shot dead as protests erupt in Albania
# 21 January 2011 22:54 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Two people were reported shot dead as protesters fought police outside Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s office on Friday during a rally to demand the government resign over corruption allegations, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
"We have two dead civilians. The signs show they were shot from close range with a small caliber pistol. They were dead when they came here," Sami Koceku, a surgeon at Tirana’s Military Hospital, told Albanian television.
There were large bloodstains on the road and police said several of its officers had been injured.
Supporters of the opposition Socialist Party had earlier rallied outside the prime minister’s office and some had pelted the building and police with stones, sticks and umbrellas.
Police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and stun grenades. Smoke billowed from burning cars, some of them police vehicles.
The length of the main boulevard was packed with protesters, and witnesses said the crowd numbered around 20,000. Some chanted "Victory" and "He’s gone." Police warned the crowd not to enter the government building but a few ventured inside.
After some three hours of clashes police in riot gear dispersed the crowd and took control of the boulevard. Live television pictures showed police chasing stray lone protesters and beating them with truncheons.
Berisha, who had been due to visit a town in northern Albania on Friday afternoon, had no immediate comment. A few hours after the unrest his staff said he was in his office and would talk to reporters at 1830 GMT.
The opposition Socialist Party led by Edi Rama has called for new elections after refusing to accept the results of June 2009 parliamentary polls, which Berisha’s Democratic Party won by a wafer-thin margin. Talks to break the deadlock have failed.
Berisha’s key ally Ilir Meta, the former deputy premier, resigned a week ago after being accused of corruption by his predecessor Dritan Prifti, a former member of his own party.
Meta’s small Socialist Integration Movement provides Berisha’s Democratic Party with the extra few votes it needs to maintain a majority in parliament. The two parties had said they would continue their cooperation after Meta quit.
"I call for calm and maturity," President Bamir Topi said after Friday’s violence erupted. "I call on politicians to resume dialogue urgently and take their responsibilities for preserving the stability of the country.
"Albania needs to heal its wounds, not to open new ones."
Rama also appealed for calm and said he had asked Socialist lawmakers to call on protesters to go home. "We want a new political solution," he added.
The European Union rejected Albania’s application for candidate status late last year, urging it to meet an agenda of 12 points topped by fighting corruption.
The Tirana missions of the EU, United States and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said they deeply regretted that the "demonstration in Tirana was not peaceful and resulted in some casualties."
"Violence and excessive use of force cannot be justified and should be avoided. We urgently appeal for calm and restraint on all sides and to abstain from provocations," they said in a joint statement.
"Albania is a democratic country and aspirant to EU membership with the necessary democratic institutions in place. We therefore renew our call for constructive dialogue and compromise to resolve the existing political differences."
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