US, Europe condemn violence in Albania opposition rallies

The U.S. and European Union lawmakers on Monday called on Albania's center-right opposition parties to restrain from violence in their anti-government protests.

Protests over the weekend turned violent with opposition supporters showering police officers with Molotov cocktails while police responded with tear gas. Injuries were reported on both sides.

Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama denounced the behavior of protesters, saying "Albania is damaged."

The opposition has been holding protests since mid-February, accusing government officials of corruption and of stealing votes in the parliamentary election two years ago. They are demanding a transitory government and an early election.

Opposition lawmakers relinquished their seats in parliament in protest, though many vacancies ultimately were filled by other opposition candidates. The governing Socialists have 74 seats in the 140-seat parliament.

A U.S. Embassy statement in Tirana Monday called on opposition leaders to condemn violence and "ensure that all future public protests are orderly and peaceful."

"Violent demonstrations are damaging Albania's democratic reform efforts and the country's prospects for moving forward on the EU path," it said, urging them to "engage in a constructive dialogue aimed at bringing an end to the political impasse."

European parliamentarians also called on Albanians "to restrain from all forms of violence."

Albania expects to hear in June whether the EU will grant its request to launch full membership negotiations.

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