Albania protesters clash with police over theatre demolition

Tirana (AFP) –


Albanian police on Sunday clashed with protesters including opposition supporters angry over the demolition of the national theatre and detained nearly 40 people.

Workers at dawn began tearing down the theatre in the capital's main square, constructed in 1939 by Italians occupying Albania at the time.

Dozens of opposition supporters, activists and actors battled with police as they tried to break through a security cordon, an AFP correspondent said.

They hurled stones leaving two officers injured, according to police.

"Down with the dictatorships", the demonstrators chanted.

A total of 37 people were briefly detained, a police statement said.

They were fined around 80 euros ($97) each for violating the novel coronavirus lockdown.

Tensions were running high at the square where hundreds of people rallied despite a ban on public gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus.

Police were wearing face masks unlike most protesters.

On Saturday afternoon protesters started to leave the square but tensions rose again when police tried to disperse some of them camping next to the square.

According to police, some officers were injured while the opposition accused police of using "excessive violence".

Leaders of two main opposition parties arrived at the site and refused to leave.

The theatre is to be replaced by a new, bigger version. But activists and the opposition argue it is part of the national heritage.

Meanwhile, head of the centre-right opposition Democratic Party Lulzim Basha announced a "wave of demonstrations throughout the country" against Prime Minister Edi Rama's left-wing government.

The opposition accuses Rama of having demolished the theatre for property development in his own interests.

Basha also accused police of having "used violence against the protesters who wanted to peacefully protect the theatre".

Rama said earlier the demolition of the theatre to build a new one was part of his government's plans to make of Tirana a "modern and European city".

The European Union delegation to Albania said it was following Sunday's developments regarding the theatre "with deep concern" and called the parties to avoid an escalation of the situation.

It voiced regret in a statement that its call for a "dialogue between authorities and civil society before an irreversible decision is taken" has not been followed by the relevant institutions.

Albania, with a population of nearly three million, is waiting for the EU to set a concrete date to open accession talks.