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Opposition vows to continue protests after deadly clashes

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-22

Socialist Party leader Edi Rama has vowed to continue protests to press the government into calling an early general election, a day after three people were killed and dozens injured during clashes with police in the Albanian capital.

AFP - Albanian opposition leader Edi Rama on Saturday vowed to push on with protests despite the deaths of three people killed during clashes with police and government accusations of an attempted coup.

"After the mourning period we will start the protest again," Rama, who is also mayor of the capital Tirana, told AFP Saturday.

The clashes, which also left dozens of people injured, broke out Friday during an anti-government demonstration called by the opposition.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha accused the socialist opposition of wanting "to mount a violent coup d'etat, imagining a Tunisian-style scenario for Albania".

"According to this scenario, people were supposed to enter the government headquarters and take control of parliament and institutions," he told Albanian media.

Longtime Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in mid-January amid street protests and fled to Saudi Arabia.

Rama rejected the accusation, saying: "There was no such scenario. This is not true. Were protesters seen attacking parliament or other institutions?"

The clashes marked the first time opposition protests had ended in violence since a political crisis erupted here after disputed 2009 general elections.

Demonstrators, some 30,000 according to the opposition while other sources put the figure at about 20,000, threw stones and other projectiles at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas into the crowd and used a water cannon in front of government buildings.

Police spokeswoman Alma Katragjini told AFP that 113 people were arrested Friday for throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at police.

It remained unclear who had shot the demonstrators, but Berisha earlier said they had been killed by weapons that police and the army "do not use" and blamed the protest's organisers for the violence.

The opposition said the victims were shot by soldiers as they tried to enter government buildings.

Hospital sources reported 30 civilians injured while a police spokeswoman said 117 officers were injured, 42 of whom remained in hospital.

Albanian prosecutors have opened a probe to establish the circumstances of the killings. Police said they are also investigating the incidents.

The opposition vowed it would not back down and will resume protests when the mourning period is over, but did not give an exact date.

"Saturday is a day of mourning for the opposition," Socialist Party spokesperson Armela Ymeraj told AFP.

Opposition leaders were due to attend the funeral of one of the victims of Friday's clashes, Hekuran Deda, 45, in Domje, about three kilometres (two miles) north of the capital.

The bodies of the other victims were still in the morgue because of the probe into their deaths and it was not known when their funerals will be held, Ymeraj added.

Albania has been in political deadlock since its last elections. The opposition refused to recognise the results, blocking legislation and reforms in parliament.

Since the collapse of Albania's hardline communist regime in 1991, elections in the country have often been marred by violence and allegations of fraud. The current impasse is the longest political crisis the country has faced.

Date created : 2011-01-22