Thousands of supporters of the Albania’s center-right opposition protested Saturday in Tirana, calling for the left-wing government to resign and for an early parliamentary election. The protesters clashed with police at several points, and reporters saw some people injured. 


The protest began in front of the main government building at Tirana’s Martyrs of the Nation Boulevard. Flares, firecrackers, Molotov cocktails and other projectiles were thrown. Police used tear gas when a group of protesters broke the police cordon and headed for the building’s entrance. 


After two hours, opposition leaders led the protesters, in smaller numbers, to the parliament building, where they continued to throw Molotov cocktails and firecrackers. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, quickly clearing the main entrance area. 


Ambulances were seen taking injured protesters away, but there was no immediate information on numbers of casualties. 


Riot gear-clad policemen and four water cannon trucks pushed protesters away from the street in front of the parliament building. Small groups of protesters continued to stay nearby. 


The opposition Democrats’ leader, Lulzim Basha, led protesters to the Tirana police department asking for the release of a senior party leader taken earlier. 


President Ilir Meta called on protesters “to avoid acts of violence and confrontation.” 


Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj wrote on Twitter that “democracy is not built with Molotovs, which aim at destroying Albania. But that is impossible!” 

​Corruption accusations


The opposition accuses Prime Minister Edi Rama’s Cabinet of being corrupt and linked to organized crime, which the government denies. 


Basha called on his supporters to continue the protest until Rama resigns and a transitional cabinet is formed to take the country to an early election. 


“We are determined there will be … no election with Edi Rama,” Basha said. 


Rama tweeted that he considered the protest violence as “sadness,” adding that “Albania is damaged.”  


The protest continued into the evening with no clear end in sight. 


The U.S. Embassy in Tirana condemned protesters’ violence, calling for it to stop. 


“Protest leaders have a responsibility to encourage calm. We call on all parties to show restraint,” a statement said. 


Opposition lawmakers relinquished their seats in parliament in protest, though many have now been filled by other opposition candidates. The governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament. 


In June, Albania expects an answer from the European Union on whether full membership negotiations will be launched. Also in June, Albania will hold municipal elections. 


The protest was the fourth national demonstration since mid-February. Regular, smaller ones have been held weekly across the country.