TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Thousands supporting Albania’s opposition took to the streets for an anti-government protest Saturday, accusing the Cabinet of links to organized crime and calling for its resignation.
Backers of the center-right Democratic Party, its ally, the left-wing Socialist Movement for Integration, and other smaller parties gathered at Tirana’s main Boulevard Martyrs of the Nation to protest against the government.
Holding national flags together with those of the United States and the European Union, opposition supporters shouted anti-government slogans such as “Rama go” — referring to Prime Minister Edi Rama.
Police security was tight near the main government offices where the rally is held. Hundreds of riot police and two water cannon trucks were standing by near Rama’s office building.
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The protest is considered a test of support for the main opposition Democrats, who suffered a landslide loss in last year’s vote, securing only 43 seats in the 140-seat parliament.
Local journalists estimated the turnout to be about 10,000, while opposition leaders said there were 200,000 to 300,000 people. Police declined to comment.
“On your behalf, on behalf of all Albanians and the opposition we ask that Edi Rama and his illegal government leaves,” said Democrat leader Lulzim Basha. He called for “an anti-Mafia government that will fight organized crime, take the justice reform ahead in line with the Constitution and prepare the holding of free and fair elections.”
The rally closed peacefully after speeches from opposition political parties’ leaders.
In a reaction unseen in post-communist Albania, the Interior Ministry thanked the opposition protesters for remaining calm and the organizers of Saturday’s event for their “cooperation in support of police work.”
Political confrontations in Albania are usually tense and often include a barrage of foul words against the opposing side.
The ministry also said it would “secure all peaceful gatherings” that are held with safety and “the public order” in mind.
Albania, a NATO member since 2009, was granted EU candidate status in 2014 and hopes to launch negotiations this year.