Europe

Albania issues arrest warrants for republican guards

Protesters clash with police in Tirana, 21 January 2011
Image caption Three people were killed and dozens injured during the clashes on Friday

Albanian prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for six members of the republican guard over the deaths of three people in anti-government unrest.

The three men were shot outside Prime Minister Sali Berisha's office on Friday.

TV footage appeared to show shots coming from inside the prime minister's compound.

Mr Berisha has accused the opposition Socialist party of fomenting the violence and attempting a coup.

In Friday's unrest, thousands of protesters pelted Mr Berisha's office and police with stones, eggs, banners and umbrellas. Police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades in response.

The arrest warrants were issued against members of the national guard accused of "exceeding their competence". Police have yet to act on the warrants.

Funerals were held on Saturday for those killed.

The demonstrators say the government stole elections held in 2009, which Mr Berisha's Democratic Party won by a small margin.

They want a new vote, though none is scheduled until 2013.

Tensions in Albania escalated when Ilir Meta, a key ally of the prime minister, resigned last week after being accused of corruption over a power plant tender.

'Dramatic setback'

Socialist leader Edi Rama said the government was responsible for the deaths, and promised to keep up pressure against Mr Berisha.

"We will continue our protests and demonstrations, without violence, peacefully, wisely, with the unstoppable power of the people's resistance," he said.

But the prime minister has accused Mr Rama of attempting an uprising in the mould of the one that led to the toppling of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

"[The opposition] are the real authors of this ugly crime. Yesterday's anti-constitutional act bears your name and you will face all the consequences," he said.

Albania is one of Europe's poorest countries.

Its hopes of joining the EU have been frustrated so far as it struggles to prove it has made the transition to a fully functioning democracy.

The EU and Western embassies in Tirana have appealed for calm.

"There is one hard truth about yesterday that is important for everyone to understand," said US Ambassador Alexander Arvizu. "There were no winners. There were only losers."

"This was a dramatic setback, and from which the country needs to recover."

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