- Associated Press - Friday, June 21, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albanian prime minister said Friday that the opposition’s main goal is to disrupt the country’s efforts to launch full membership negotiations with the European Union.

Edi Rama, also leader of the ruling left-wing Socialist Party, also told The Associated Press in an interview Friday he was determined the June 30 municipal elections would be held despite opposition unrest since mid-February.

“It’s done to affect and to affect it negatively. It’s done to show to Europe that this country isn’t stable, that this country does not deserve to be taken seriously,” he said, referring to the protests that have been violent. Rama was wearing a polo shirt, with “PS 30” on the front in a reference to his Socialist Party and the date of the municipal elections.

Center-right opposition parties are boycotting the vote after months of demanding an early national election and accusing the government of vote-rigging and other wrongdoing.

Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in in front of the prime minister’s office holding U.S., EU and German flags and shouting “Rama go.”

Main opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha threatened to hold protests across the country to prevent the municipal elections from taking place.

“Any attempt to provoke Albanians will fail shamefully and June 30 will be Edi Rama’s political end,” he said before leading supporters to the parliament building.

No objects were thrown at police, the first time that happened since the start of the rallies in mid-February and apparently a consequence of intensive calls from the U.S., EU and other Western countries to stop the violence.

President Ilir Meta is backing the protesters’ cause and has been trying to cancel the elections, saying they would be “undemocratic” without the participation of the opposition. Albania’s parliament has started the lengthy procedure to oust Meta for allegedly violating the constitution.

Rama offered no solution other than “it’s time to hear the people,” adding he would resume calls for unconditional dialogue after the polls.

EU countries postponed the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

Rama said the opposition’s arguments “don’t stand,” adding it has “a clear plan to disrupt the political process, the negotiations with the EU process.”

He said that opposition leaders fear that EU membership negotiations would open with a focus on the judiciary, including whether top officials should be indicted in corruption cases.

“The country had to prove that this it is a place where the justice system has no problem to indict, to convict and to prevent criminal activity of anyone,” Rama said.

“The era of impunity will be over and that’s the problem” for the opposition, he said.

Opposition protests have turned violent with demonstrators hurling projectiles at police officers, who have responded with tear gas in some cases. In recent days, the opposition has tried to prevent the preparation of municipal elections in the districts they manage.

The opposition runs 27 districts, while the governing Socialists are in control of 34.

The United States, EU and other international institutions have called on the opposition to avoid violence and sit in talks.

The opposition has planned its ninth national protest later Friday.


Follow Llazar Semini on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lsemini

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