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Hundreds Block Roads In Albania To Protest New Kosovo Highway Tolls

Protestors set fire to a toll booth during clashes with police on March 31 at a toll plaza on the Durres-Kukes Highway, linking Albania with Kosovo.

Hundreds of protesters have burned tires and blocked four main highways in Albania to demand that the authorities scrap new tolls on the main road linking Albania with Kosovo.

The two-hour protest on April 5 followed the torching of toll booths on the highway on March 31 by demonstrators angered by the imposition of fees for the first time to use the road.

Twenty-three people were arrested after clashes with police over the weekend that left some policemen injured, and 11 of the protesters were jailed by an Albanian court on April 4.

Albanian opposition leaders have seized on anger over the road tolls to launch what they call a wave of civil disobedience. They are now calling on Albanians to refuse to pay several kinds of taxes, contending that the government collects them to enrich its cronies.

The government says the tolls are necessary to pay for modernization, including the widening of two bridges, of the highway winding through difficult mountainous terrain.

The project is a priority for Tirana, as the highway is the main overland artery between Albania and Kosovo, a mainly ethnic Albanian country. The two states have close cultural, political, and commercial ties.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama used a video link with town councillors in Kukes, near the border with Kosovo, on April 5 to apologize to residents for not providing information in advance about the tolls. He said frequent road users would qualify for discounts.

The new tolls are part of a 30-year concession granted by Rama's government to manage and repair the highway.

Workers have cleared the debris from the weekend violence, and Rama said the upgrading of the highway to Kosovo would be completed by the end of this year.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters