Monday, April 24, 2017
Albania opposition blocks roads, wants technocrat government
Supporters of Albania's opposition Democratic Party demostarte in Tirana, Albania, April 24, 2017.
Supporters of Albania's opposition Democratic Party blocked several main roads on Monday for one hour, escalating their two-month-old protest for a caretaker government to oversee the June 18 general elections.
Party leader Lulzim Basha joined supporters sitting at a crossroads on the outskirts of Tirana where traffic comes off a main highway, and praised their peacefulness and "European culture".
There were other sit-ins near highways in northern, central and southern Albania.
The opposition has been calling for a caretaker government to oversee the next election because it says Prime Minister Edi Rama's Socialist-led coalition will reshape the judiciary to its liking and it cannot be trusted to ensure a fair vote.
The government, which is trying to reform the judiciary as part of its drive to join the European Union, rejects this accusation.
The protesters have been holding a sit-in for the past 65 days at a tent pitched in the main street below the government offices. Efforts to solve the deadlock have so far failed.
The opposition is also boycotting parliament, stalling the passage of laws that would help vet the new judges and kick-start a reform of the judiciary that Brussels has made a step before starting accession negotiations with Albania.
At the end of the hour-long protest, Basha repeated his call for a technocrat government that could purge officials with a criminal past and pass the vetting laws.
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"This is a warning that the determination of this people's movement is unbreakable in its resolve to hold free and fair elections," he told the crowd on the road.
Police had earlier warned the protest was illegal but it did not try to disperse the crowd. Except for minor altercation in the south, the roadblocks passed peacefully.
Rama accused the Democrats of creating roadblocks because they "did not want the road to Europe to be opened by cleansing the corrupt from the judiciary".
Two members of the European Parliament, from the right and left, were due in Tirana on Monday evening on a mission to help reach a compromise, the EU delegation office said.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Tom Heneghan)