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Tens of thousands rally in call for recount of 2009 vote

Tens of thousands of people rallied on Friday in Tirana in support of calls by the opposition Socialists for a recount of ballots from a June 2009 vote that brought the government to a virtual standstill.


AFP - Tens of thousands of people rallied Friday in front of the Albanian government building in Tirana, backing calls by the opposition Socialists for a recount of ballots from last year's elections.

The protest was the latest development in a political crisis that has shaken the former communist nation and brought the workings of government to a virtual standstill since the polls in June 2009.

"The time of the resistance has come. This is a great battle and we are determined to pursue, whatever sacrifices are demanded from us," Socialist leader Edi Rama told the crowd.

He called on supporters to keep up the protests until polls results are clear.

The Socialists also accused the goverment of plunging the country into an economic crisis.

"This is the final moment," Gramoc Ruci, a Socialist deputy, told the crowd, which he said numbered up to 100,000 people. There was no official or independent figure.

The Socialists accuse Prime Minister Sali Berisha's ruling coalition of manipulating the results of the elections and have boycotted parliament to demand a recount, which the government has refused.

Fatmir Xhasa, a Socialist deputy, told the protestors that 22 lawmakers would launch a hunger strike in front of the seat of government to demand election transparency.

About a dozen tents were set up to accommodate the strikers.

Protesters held placards calling on Berisha to allow a recount. "Berisha, either open the ballot boxes, or leave," read one such message.

The government, led by Berisha's Democrats, has dismissed calls for a recount, claiming that the demand has already been rejected by the justice system.

The Socialists returned to parliament in February after their months-long boycott but still refuse to take part in any vote, holding up the workings of government.

"This protest will last for an unlimited period of time," Rama, who is also the mayor of Tirana, told reporters before the start of the demonstration.

"We are determined to continue the protests and civil disobedience, to oblige the government either to be transparent in regard to the fraud-marked elections or to leave," Rama said.

The protests have angered the government, especially as the rallies come shortly before a special concert organised by the authorities on Labour Day, May 1 for "Albanians who have all reasons to celebrate".

"The country is changing and it goes towards its European dream," said Integration Minister Majlinda Bregu.

The nearly year-long political deadlock has also undermined the country's EU ambitions.

Albania submitted its candidacy for EU membership in April 2009 and has been hoping to obtain the lifting of visa requirements for its citizens to travel throughout the Schengen zone, which covers most EU countries.


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