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3 Dead, Over 50 Wounded as Tens of Thousands Protest in Albania


Supporters of the opposition Socialist Party clash with police during a rally in Tirana January 21, 2011. (REUTERS/Arben Celi)

Three people have been
killed in the Albanian capital Tirana during clashes between police and
thousands of opposition supporters.

An estimated 20,000 people rallied outside government buildings calling on the conservative government to resign.

The protests follow the resignation of deputy prime minister Ilir Meta who is at the centre of a fraud scandal.

The socialist opposition accuses the government of corruption, abuse of power and rigging the last election.

Albania has been in political deadlock since the opposition rejected the result of the 2009 elections.

"Three people are dead, 17 policemen and soldiers were
injured, including three seriously, along with 22 civilians," hospital
surgeon Sami Koceku told AFP news agency.

He said the victims were already dead when they arrived at the hospital.

Witnesses said a section of the crowd threw rocks at the police who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Some protesters also threw stones from the top
of a pyramid-shaped building near the office of Prime Minister Sali
Berisha and set light to a police car and other vehicles.


Following three hours of clashes, protesters dispersed after
appeals for calm from President Bamir Topi and Socialist Party leader
Edi Rama.

Police in riot gear then took control of the main streets and
television footage showed officers fanning out through the main
boulevard, chasing stray protesters and beating some with truncheons.

There were no immediate reports of arrests.


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Before the protests, the US embassy in Tirana also called for
the protest to be peaceful and appealed to politicians to tone down
their rhetoric.

"In recent days the rhetoric and the language of selected
political leaders have assumed a tone that suggests an endorsement of
disruptive and harmful acts and inappropriate conduct," it said in a

British MP Mark Pritchard, who chairs the UK parliamentary group on Albania, also called for restraint.

"It would be very sad indeed, with Albania having come so far
so quickly to build up its democracy and democratic institutions and
having worked so hard towards possible future EU membership, if violence
and political disunity were to put this at risk," he told the BBC.

"I hope that all political parties will put
their differences aside for the sake of the Albanian nation and people
and to safeguard Albania's international reputation."

The opposition wants fresh parliamentary elections after
rejecting the result of the June 2009 vote which Mr Berisha's Democratic
Party won by a small margin.

Political tensions rose after Ilir Meta - Mr Berisha's key
ally - resigned last week after being accused of corruption over a power
plant tender.

Albania - one of Europe's poorest countries - will hold local
elections on 8 May but the next general election is not due until 2013.

Since the fall of communism in 1991, Albania has never held an election that has met all international standards.

Its hopes of joining the EU have been thwarted as it
struggles to prove it has made the transition to a fully-functioning

Brussels rejected Albania's application for candidate status
late last year, urging it to meet an agenda of 12 points, in particular
fighting corruption.


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