Monday, April 17, 2017

Germany wants Albanian opposition to end parliament boycott

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By Associated Press

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Germany's foreign minister on Monday called on Albania's opposition to end a parliamentary boycott, not block the launch of justice reforms and take part in the June parliamentary election.

Sigmar Gabriel, visiting Albania's capital, said that Germany and the European Union couldn't understand the opposition's request for a caretaker government only weeks before the June 18 vote.

The Democratic Party-led opposition says that it will boycott the parliamentary election unless a caretaker government takes the country to the polls. It says the Cabinet will manipulate the vote with drug money, and has declined to negotiate. Since mid-February, its supporters have blocked the main boulevard in Tirana, raising a tent in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama's office.

Gabriel said that it was "totally absurd" to block the road and that opposition lawmakers should instead try to implement change at parliament.

"Let them go to parliament where they are members (and do that)," Gabriel said at a joint news conference with Albanian counterpart Ditmir Bushati. "The federal government believes that a parliamentary boycott isn't an acceptable way to express the will (of the people)."

The opposition's boycott of parliament is also blocking the launch of judicial reform, considered as key to the start of EU membership negotiations with Brussels.

Corruption in Albania's judiciary has been a main obstacle to Albania's post-communist development.

Judicial reforms unanimously approved last year, and prepared with assistance from EU and U.S. experts, have been hampered by the opposition boycott. Parliament needs to create the vetting bodies that will evaluate the backgrounds of around 800 judges and prosecutors. The opposition says that those bodies could be subject to manipulation.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders, visiting Tirana as well on Monday, also called on the opposition to end the boycott.

"The vetting, judicial reform is absolutely key in the whole process of integration into European structures. It is high time to be implemented. There is an urgency to do this," he said at a news conference with Bushati.

Main opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha met with both ministers, saying he explained to them how they weren't blocking judicial reform, as the vetting couldn't be held by a prime minister and that the opposition was excluded.

He also insisted that "the only way is through a technical (caretaker) government ... to take the country to free and fair elections."

Gabriel warned that those who "boycott parliament to hamper judicial reform damage the country and its reputation," adding that will only "make the path toward the EU longer and Albanians' lives more difficult."

"Europe is a synonym of the rule of law, of the power of law and not the power of force," Gabriel said at a news conference with Rama.

The governing left-wing coalition has asked Europe's center-right parties, of which the country's opposition is a member, to convince the opposition to sit down to talks and take part in Albania's parliamentary election.

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