Albanian president, PM clash over June elections

Tirana (AFP) –


Albanian President Ilir Meta on Saturday cancelled local elections scheduled for June 30, a decision promptly rejected by Prime Minister Edi Rama who said the polls would go ahead.

The announcement put Meta and Rama on a collision course, the latest development in a political crisis that has spilled onto the streets with weekly protests demanding Rama's resignation shrouding Tirana in tear gas.

"Current conditions do not allow for fair and democratic elections to take place and undermine any possibility of opening accession negotiations with the EU," Meta said in a letter released by his press office.

Prime Minister Rama hit back while on a visit to the south of the country, pledging to plough on with the ballot.

"The elections will be held on June 30 and the socialist majority is determined to carry through the reform of justice crucial for Albania's European future," he said.

In February, opposition politicians from the right to the centre-left walked out of parliament in a protest demanding the resignation of socialist Rama, who has led the country since 2013.

They want a transitional government and early elections, and refuse to negotiate with Rama whom they accuse of crime and corruption links.

Leader of the opposition Democratic Party Lulzim Basha told thousands of supporters in Tirana on Saturday the president's decision was the "first result of our battle against Edi Rama and will continue".

Rama's departure was "non-negotiable" he said, despite calls from the international community for Albania's political parties to engage in constructive dialogue and refrain from violence.

The protesters then headed for parliament where police used teargas and water canon to disperse them.

The political crisis is seen as a threat to Tirana's dreams of joining the EU with member states to decide in the coming weeks whether to open accession talks with the volatile Balkan state