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Kosovo, Albanians Protest New Tolls On Connecting Highway

Protesters rally in Tirana against the road tax.

Protests have broken out over new tolls the Albanian government is charging on the main highway linking the country with neighboring Kosovo.

The AP reported on April 4 that Kosovo formally complained to Albania over the tariffs imposed on the 110-kilometer roadway, which was built in 2009 and was previously free.

AP said Kosovo Infrastructure Minister Pal Lekaj complained to Albania's ambassador to Pristina, Qemal Minxhozi, over the tolls, which range from 2.5 euros ($2.9) to 22.5 euros ($25) in cost.

Many Kosovar tourists use the highway to travel to Albania to enjoy seaside destinations they lack in their landlocked country.

Last weekend, several hundred protesters in Albania burned down toll boxes and scuffled with police, contending that the tariffs on the country's first toll road are too high in a country where the average monthly salary is 350 euros ($400).

An Albanian court on April 4 jailed 11 protesters for an undefined period of time over the violent demonstrations at which protesters pelted police with stones near the Morina border crossing on March 31.

AFP reported that 14 police officers were injured in the protests, and 23 protesters were arrested.

Following the court ruling to jail some of the protesters, the opposition Democratic Party urged Albanians to begin "civil disobedience" and "rise up" against the government led by socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama.

Protesters are planning to blockade the road on April 5.

Rama defended the toll plan, under which an international consortium is expected to maintain the road and collect tolls over a 30-year period, and accused the opposition party of trying to ignite a "Molotov cocktail" by encouraging protests.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP