Albania: Skirmishes between opposition and police spiraling out of control

Albanian police said on Friday they had arrested 14 people and were searching for nine more following an arson attack on a regional local election office in the village of Bushat, about 80 km north of Tirana.

The attack occurred on Thursday evening when about 200 people assembled at the election center of the Municipality of Vau i Dejws, an opposition Democratic Party stronghold.

Police said the crowd used Molotov bombs and burned material that should have been used on Sunday in controversial elections that the opposition has vowed to boycott. Three police officers were injured.

Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama condemned the attack as a “desperate move” by the opposition to stop the local elections.

“The attack is a foul demonstration of the desperation of L. Basha, M. Kryemadhi, I.Meta, and S. Berisha,” he wrote on Twitter, naming opposition leaders and President Ilir Meta as responsible for the violence.

Among the 14 arrested were several employees of the municipality, including a deputy mayor. However, the Democratic Party has sought to distance itself from the incident and called on its supporters “to not fall prey to provocations”.

“The Democratic Party condemns the criminal scenario of Edi Rama which aims to incriminate the opposition for the violence that he [Rama] has planned,” it said in a press release.

The opposition also noted the presence of Tom Doshi, a controversial figure, in the election efforts of the Socialist Party, as highlighting the alleged collaboration between Rama and organised crime networks.

Doshi was blacklisted by the US Department of State last year for “significant corruption”, but was photographed last week in the entourage of Rama at electoral meetings.

“The nomination of Tom Doshi as political chief-of-staff for Shkodra [in northern Albania] by Edi Rama is telling about the 30 June [local elections],” the Democratic Party said in its statement.

“An individual blacklisted by the United States is the guarantee that Rama has given to crime,” it added.

The government has invited Albanians to vote in local elections this Sunday, although President Meta has ordered the elections to be postponed to October 13.

About 3.5 million voters have the right to choose 61 new mayors and about 1,590 members of local councils. However, in 31 of the municipalities, only Socialist Party candidates are standing while in the rest Socialists are competing with candidates of small parties or independents.

Some opposition mayors have wowed to not let the elections to go forward in their respective areas. Vau i Dejes, where the latest incident occurred, is a Democratic Party stronghold, ruled by the same mayor since 1996.