Albania’s opposition tries to disrupt a parliament session in protest against ruling Socialists

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian opposition lawmakers on Thursday caused commotion in Parliament, trying to disrupt a session in protest against what they say is increasingly authoritarian rule by the governing Socialists.

Democratic lawmakers blocked left-wing Socialists of Prime Minister Edi Rama from taking their seats and stacked chairs on top of each other in the central hall. The Democrats threw smoke firecrackers and even pushed and shoved some of the Socialists.

However, the session in the 140-member chamber later went ahead and 73 Socialist lawmakers voted in favor of 21 draft laws.

Sali Berisha, leader of one group in the heavily divided center-right Democratic Party, described the melee in parliament as a “temporary strike” and said the Democrats would continue with such actions as long as “the shameful parliament” keeps ploughing ahead.

“They did not respect our strike,” he said of the Socialists.

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The parliament disturbances first started two weeks ago, two days before prosecutors accused Berisha of the Democratic Party of corruption because of a land-buying scheme that’s now under legal investigation in the capital of Tirana.

The prosecutors in the case allege the 79-year-old Berisha granted financial favors to his son-in-law, 50-year-old Jamarber Malltezi. Berisha last month said the prosecutor’s office in charge of cases against senior officials or major cases had ordered him not to leave the country.

Malltezi has been arrested on corruption and money laundering charges. The prosecution claims he exploited Berisha’s position as prime minister to buy land in Tirana owned by private citizens and the country’s defense ministry and build 17 apartment buildings.

Berisha has said that both he and Malltezi are innocent, and claims the case is politically motivated and that his opponent, Rama, is behind it.

The Democrats also on Thursday accused Interior Minister Taulant Balla of links to organized crime, without offering evidence for their claim.

The opposition has said it would radicalize its protests but did not elaborate.

Berisha served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005-2013 and as president from 1992-1997. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in the April 2021 parliamentary election.

Berisha and his family members were barred by the United States in May 2021 from entering the country, and also the United Kingdom in July 2022 because of alleged involvement in corruption. Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the U.S. because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Post-communist Albania has struggled to fight corruption, which has impeded the country’s democratic, economic and social development.

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