Monday, April 18, 2011

Campaign Pressure on Albania Police Under Scrutiny

As prosecutors probe a row between the ministry of interior and police over an alleged order to subdue opposition protesters, an expert warns that political pressure on the force during campaigns undermines their work.

Aristir Lumezi

Riot police units during an opposition protest on Jan. 21, 2011 |Photo by : Besar Likmeta

Tirana prosecutors will question Albania’s Special Forces Commander Shemsi Prenci and Deputy Minister of Interior Avenir Peka, after accusations of political pressure surfaced following a campaign incident.

Prenci filed charges in Tirana prosecutor’s office against Peka last week, accusing him of trying to send his units against opposition protestors, after clashes with a rival political gang on April 10.

The general director of police is the only authority that can order the deployment of special police units.

Premci told reporters that Peka had “threatened and insulted him” after he refused the order that he believed was illegal.

“I won’t obey the illegal orders of deputy minister Peka,” Prenci said.

Peka has declined to comment on the accusations and filed a counter-suit against the police commander, accusing him of slander.

The row is one of the most serious incidents of the campaign for the May 8 local elections, which has been characterised by a tense political climate and several violent clashes between government and opposition supporters.

Although Albania’s police forces were widely used in past electoral campaigns to advance political interests, they have received flying marks for professionalism in the last three polls in the country.

Adriatik Ago, a security expert and former head of police in the region of Shkodra, says that political interference damages police work on many levels, and if Peka’s alleged order proves true, it would certainly be considered a serious incident.

“The time when politicians interfered [in police work] through a phone call disregarding of the chain of command has past,” said Ago.

“This is a sign that politicians are still trying to interfere more than they should in the police forces, undermining their work,” Ago added.

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