US diplomats warned of repercussions for Albanian opposition if protest violence continues

By bne IntelliNews June 25, 2019

US officials warned the leaders of Albanian opposition parties that any future violence during the anti-government protests that have taken place since February will result in the parties being declared violent organisations, Albanian broadcaster Top Channel reported.

The protests, which have often ended in violence and clashes with police officers, are aimed at overthrowing the government of Prime Minister Eli Rama, which opposition politicians accuse of corruption and links with criminal gangs. 

Demonstrators threw firebombs at several of the protests, and mounted attacks on public buildings. This drew criticism from several western embassies in Tirana which have repeatedly called for peaceful protests. 

Top Channel reported, citing its sources, that the US is threatening to put the opposition Democratic Party on the list of violent political organisations, if it continues with violence during the protests, a move that would restrict party officials’ access to funds and visas for traveling to the US. 

It describes the message delivered by US diplomats as the most radical in the history of Albanian pluralism.

"Any act of violence from today until July 1 made or promulgated by you will force the US State Department to classify you as a violent organisation," US Embassy deputy head of mission Daniel Koski told  Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha and LSI Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI) Monica Kryemadhi the day before the latest protest on June 21, according to Top Channel’s report.

Contacted by bne IntelliNews, the US embassy in Tirana neither confirmed nor denied the report. 

Top Channel commented that the effect of this warning was reflected immediately at Friday's protest where not a single firebomb was thrown.

Previous protests were marred by violence including attacks on police officers that forced police to react with tear gas and water cannons. Injuries to both police officers and protestors were reported.

The situation in Albania is quite tense ahead of the June 30 local elections, which were recently cancelled by President Ilir Meta in a move defied by the governing Socialist Party, which is determined to go ahead with the vote. Both the Democratic Party and the LSI will boycott the vote. 

Top Channel also reported that the US is supporting the June 30 election. Specifically Ambassador Philip T. Reeker, acting US Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs, had a phone conversation with Rama on June 19 saying that the election should be held as scheduled on June 30.

On June 24, Albania’s Electoral College, the country’s highest election body, decided to back the holding of local elections as planned on June 30

On the other hand, the Democrats say they will continue to hold protests and will do whatever is needed to prevent the elections.

Meta said that his decree canceling the vote can be overturned only by the Constitutional Court, which currently is non-functional since many judges were dismissed as they did not pass the vetting process during Tirana's overhaul of the judiciary. 

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