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Albanian Prime Minister Says Four Government Ministers To Step Down

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama (file photo)

Albania's socialist prime minister says four government ministers will step down on March 13, but he insisted the moves had nothing to do with opposition protests.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said on March 12 that he would replace the Socialist Party ministers of interior, health, social well-being, and local affairs so they can focus on upcoming parliamentary elections.

"The government changes were made only to allow our electoral managers to focus with fresh energies on the campaign in order to cope with the huge volume of contacts," Rama said during his weekly address.

The ministers stepping down are also coordinators for the Socialist Party in key districts.

They are Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri; Social Welfare Minister Blendi Klosi; Local Government Minister Bledi Cuci; and Health Minister Ilir Beqa.

Tahiri has been blamed by critics for the rapid expansion of cannabis farms over the past two years.

The Democratic Part has accused the government of colluding with cannabis growers to steal recent elections. It said it would not be fooled by such "tricks" as replacing the ministers.

Democratic Party lawmakers have boycotted parliament, stalling procedures to vet 750 judges and prosecutors.

The opposition demonstrators have been calling for a technocratic caretaker government to take over to ensure that June 18 parliamentary elections are free and fair.

The European Union has set reform of the judiciary and free elections as key conditions for the start of ascension talks, which NATO-member Albania said it hopes to begin by the end of this year.

Rama's leftist coalition defeated the Democrats four years ago and has won all local elections since.

But the party has complained it was cheated out of victory and is pressing for reforms to guarantee fair elections.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
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