TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Thousands of protesters supporting Albania’s opposition surrounded the parliament building Thursday and demanded the government step down, claiming it’s corrupt and has links to organized crime.
Hundreds of police and rolls of barbed wire are protecting the parliament building in downtown Tirana, the capital, from the protesters. Thursday’s parliament session was cancelled.
Opposition lawmakers, led by the center-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, have signed letters of resignation from parliament and are demanding an early election.
Supporters of the opposition gathered in front of the parliament building with anti-government posters and slogans. Basha invited all demonstrators to follow him to the main offices of the parliament, where he handed over the lawmakers’ resignation letters.
Then they moved to the party headquarters, where Basha called for nationwide protests.
“We will now lead a civic, peaceful and democratic battle to restore legitimacy and democracy in Albania,” Basha told The Associated Press before the start of the rally.
The governing Socialists, which hold 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament, did not comment.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn denounced the opposition lawmakers’ decision to resign as “counterproductive.” They say the lawmakers “go against the democratic choice of Albanian citizens and undermine the progress the country has made on the European Union path.”
Albania is hoping to launch full EU membership negotiations later this year.
The U.S. embassy in Tirana urged opposition supporters “to peacefully exercise their right of assembly and reject violence” and the government “to practice restraint.”
Thursday’s protest ended peacefully after three hours.
At last week’s rally, protesters tried to force their way into Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office. Police used tear gas to keep them away.
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