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Albanian Protesters Converge On Tirana, Demand Resignation Of Prime Minister

 Lulzim Basha, chairman of the Democratic Party
Lulzim Basha, chairman of the Democratic Party

Thousands of demonstrators converged in Tirana to demand the resignation of Albania’s Socialist prime minister.

The protesters, led by the opposition Democratic Party, pitched tents on February 18 outside Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office to demand his resignation and for a caretaker government to take power and guarantee free elections.

"Rama's government must go, the time has come to overthrow it!" Lulzim Basha of the center-right Democratic Party told the crowd.

“He has plunged the country into poverty and corruption, has led it into an impasse, forcing many Albanians to leave their country," Basha said.

"I invite you all to stay together to achieve holding of free and fair elections that will come only after the replacement of this government of crime with a caretaker government to the free polls," he added.

No official estimates of crowd size were immediately available.

Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri told local TV the protesters would not be stopped from raising tents.

"We care for the protesters. We don't kill them," he said.

The demonstration harkens back to seven years ago, when Rama put up tents outside his predecessor's office to demand a vote recount after a disputed parliamentary election.

Albania is a NATO member and candidate to join the European Union.

Brussels has urged Tirana to conduct free elections and revamp the judiciary to tackle corruption before it begins membership talks.

Albania said it hopes to begin talks for joining the EU near the end of this year.

Albanian parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 18.

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

But the Democrats have complained they were cheated out of victory and are pressing for reforms to guarantee fair elections.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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