Europe

Albanian PM Berisha defiant after three die in clashes

A protester defies riot police in Tirana, 21 January
Image caption The opposition plans more protests

Prime Minister Sali Berisha of Albania has said there will be no Tunisia-style uprising in his country after three people died in clashes on Friday.

"No one can seize power by violent means in this country," he said.

Thousands of protesters demanding his government's resignation were confronted by riot police in the capital Tirana.

An opposition leader said the crowd had been provoked and police had behaved unprofessionally.

Albania - one of Europe's poorest countries - is not due to hold its next general election until 2013.

But political tensions grew last week after Ilir Meta, a key ally of the prime minister, resigned after being accused of corruption over a power plant tender.

The opposition wants a fresh general election after rejecting the result of the June 2009 vote, which Mr Berisha's Democratic Party won by a small margin.

The ex-communist state's hopes of joining the EU have been thwarted as it struggles to prove it has made the transition to a fully functioning democracy.

Brussels rejected Albania's application for candidate status late last year, urging it to meet an agenda of 12 points, in particular fighting corruption.

Opposition in mourning

In Friday's unrest, protesters pelted Mr Berisha's office and police with stones, sticks and umbrellas, and police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannon and stun grenades.

Vehicles were set alight, some of them belonging to police. In addition to the dead, dozens of people were injured.

Mr Berisha drew a parallel with Tunisia, where President Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali was ousted on a wave of popular protest this month.

The prime minister compared his political opponents to Mr Ben Ali, but said they were seeking to overthrow his government through violence.

"The bastard children of Albania's own Ben Alis conceived Tunisian scenarios... for you citizens of Albania," he said.

"No power in the world is able to manipulate the free will of the Albanian people."

Mr Berisha ruled out imposing a state of emergency but said further violence would not be tolerated.

Accusing the police of lacking professionalism, opposition Socialist Party leader Edi Rama said: "My call for the so-called premier is to refrain from taking our society and country further down a blind alley."

Protesters would mourn the dead on Saturday and hold more protests later, he added, promising they would be peaceful.

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