- Associated Press - Thursday, June 27, 2019

TIRANA, Albania (AP) - Albania’s political conflict took another twist Thursday as the president announced what he said was a new date for municipal elections while the prime minister and his governing Socialists insisted the votes would go ahead as scheduled this weekend.

President Ilir Meta said the vote would take now place Oct. 13, having previously announced that he was canceling Sunday’s elections because of a boycott by the opposition.

Meta said the intention of the new election date is “to give a positive message to European partners.” The date is a few days before the European Union is due to decide whether to open full membership negotiations with Albania.

Prime Minister Edi Rama, however, insisted the elections would take place as scheduled Sunday. “June 30 is the only election date,” Rama tweeted while Meta was still holding his news conference.

The opposition, led by the center-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, has been holding protests since mid-February over allegations of vote-rigging and government links to organized crime. It has refused to participate in the municipal ballots and is demanding early national elections be called.

The opposition has threatened to prevent any voting and says it will not recognize any election result.

The Interior Ministry said a crowd of opposition supporters sought to burn election materials in the northern town of Bushat on Thursday, and three police officers were injured by exploding gasoline bombs.

A police statement said 200 to 250 opposition supporters joined in the attack. Nine people were arrested, it said.

The Democratic Party denied its supporters were involved.

Basha, the opposition leader, met with the president earlier Thursday, while the prime minister declined to meet with him. The Socialist Party has started a procedure to try to oust Meta.

Basha said the opposition would not take part in any election process “unless those involved in vote theft and linked to organized crime confront with justice.”

Mathew Palmer, a deputy assistant U.S. secretary of state for European matters, said in an interview with the Voice of America that the U.S. expects the elections to be held on schedule. “We hope that the conduct of elections will be smooth and transparent,” he added.


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

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