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Albanian ex-PM loses immunity, can be investigated

Albanian lawmakers voted Wednesday to lift the immunity of a former prime minister accused of corruption, paving the way for him to be investigated in a case that has triggered a severe political crisis.

Parliament voted 128-2 to lift the immunity of Ilir Meta, a lawmaker who served as prime minister from 1999 to 2002 and deputy prime minister to the current government since 2009.

Meta's resignation last month over corruption allegations led to political tensions that culminated in an anti-government protest that left four people dead.

Parliament said it will discuss lifting the immunity of former economy minister Dritan Prifti in a related case next week.

Both men deny any wrongdoing and say they welcome the lifting of immunity so they can clear their names.

Meta resigned after Prifti made public a video allegedly showing Meta trying to influence him over a state tender for a hydropower station. Meta, leader of the Socialist Movement for Integration, part of the governing coalition, says the video was fabricated.

"I will go to the prosecutors," Meta said in parliament, noting he had resigned when the case broke and had gone to prosecutors on his own accord to clear his name.

Prifti was then accused of corruption himself after the prosecutor general's office sent Prifti's laptop to a forensic expert to check on whether the Meta video was genuine. The expert allegedly found a separate deleted video on the laptop of another case of suspected bribery involving Prifti and his deputy minister.

Prifti has denied the allegations.

The opposition Socialists are demanding that conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha call early elections over the corruption allegations and allegations of vote-rigging in the 2009 election. Berisha has refused to resign, accusing the opposition of trying to stage a coup.

Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries and now a NATO member, is seeking to join the European Union, but the 27-nation bloc has said the Balkan country of 3.2 million people has not yet done enough to root out corruption.

European and U.S. officials have repeatedly called for restraint from both opposition Socialists and governing Democrats.

Opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama repeated his call for the government to call fresh elections.