Opposition supporters wave Albanian Flags as they take part in an anti-government rally outside the prime minister's office in capital Tirana, Albania, Saturday, Feb.16, 2019. Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters have clashed with police in an anti-government rally to protest what they says is a corrupt and inefficient Cabinet, asking for its resignation and early elections. (AP Photo/ Hektor Pustina)

Opposition supporters clash with police in Albania

February 16, 2019 - 9:17 am

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters clashed with police Saturday at an anti-government rally protesting what they claim is a corrupt and inefficient Cabinet. The protesters demanded that the government resign and an early election be held.

Protesters throwing flares and other objects broke through police ranks as they tried to enter the office of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama. They destroyed the main door of the government building in Tirana, the capital, and broke an artwork on the side of the building but could not get inside.

Police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. There was no immediate word on any injuries.

One poster read "This is the end of the thieves," while another showed a picture of Rama's face made to resemble that of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Protesters shouted "Rama go!" and blew vuvuzelas.

The rally was organized by the center-right Democratic Party. In an interview with The Associated Press before the rally, Democrats leader Lulzim Basha said his supporters want the government to resign, a transitional Cabinet to be put into place and an early election held.

"(We need) to restore democracy through a parliament that is elected by the will of people and not the money or the threats of criminals," he said.

This year Albania, a NATO member since 2009, hopes to get the European Union's approval to launch full membership negotiations. Fighting corruption and organized crime are some of the EU's main priorities for Albania, which has seen corruption across the political spectrum.

U.S., EU and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe denounced the violence Saturday on the government building and called on political parties "to take all necessary steps to ensure that the situation becomes peaceful and constructive."

Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj urged political leaders to distance themselves from the violence.

President Ilir Meta also called for restraint, saying that "citizens should be free to protest, and all the institutions should be respected."

Rama on Saturday was meeting with citizens in the southwestern port of Vlora in an apparent campaign stop ahead of Albania's municipal election in June.

On his Twitter page, Rama apologized to German artist Carsten Holler, who created mushroom sculpture on the building that was damaged.

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

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