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Albania's parliament starts procedure to oust president

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania’s parliament on Monday started the lengthy procedure to oust President Ilir Meta for allegedly violating the constitution with his attempt to cancel upcoming municipal elections.

Taulant Balla of the governing Socialist Party parliamentary group said that 55 lawmakers had made the request for a no-confidence vote on Meta.

Balla said the request will go before a special parliamentary commission before the 140-seat parliament votes to force out Meta. The governing Socialists need at least 94 votes, which they don’t have.

Even if the party gets enough to pass the no-confidence motion, the Constitutional Court makes the final decision. The court has been dysfunctional for about a year after most of its judges were fired.

Earlier this month, Meta said he was canceling June 30 local elections because he feared the balloting would be “undemocratic” without the participation of Albania’s center-right opposition parties and would spark social conflict.

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Meta’s critics say that the president violated the constitution by calling off the elections.

Prime Minister Edi Rama insists the municipal elections will go ahead as scheduled to prevent political “blackmail” to force the calling of early parliamentary elections.

Albania’s center-right opposition has led protests since mid-February, accusing the government of links to organized crime and demanding a new general election.

The Socialists deny the allegations.

In a related development, Lulzim Basha, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, and two other party officials didn’t appear at the prosecutor’s office as requested to be interrogated as defendants of allegedly suspicious spending abroad by the party during a parliamentary election two years ago.

Basha, who denies the accusations and considers the case to be a “political investigation,” asked prosecutors first to offer evidence for issuing charges as the law requires.

A U.S. magazine, Mother Jones, published an article reporting that Albania’s Democratic Party received secret funds from Russian sources through an American lobbyist, allegedly paid by a Russian-linked company called Biniatta Trade.

Basha and two other party officials will be questioned about $650,000 the party is accused of spending in the United States and Scotland through the lobbyist and a foreign company with offices in Scotland.

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