Protest in northern Albanian city leaves 1 officer injured

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Demonstrators in a northern Albanian city damaged the left-wing governing Socialist Party’s offices and injured a police officer Saturday, authorities said, as part of ongoing protests this week after a fatal shooting by police enforcing a coronavirus curfew.

Police said the illegal protest began at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) in Shkodra, 110 kilometers (65 miles) north of the capital, Tirana. Demonstrators first hurled objects at the local party offices before raiding it, taking out furniture and other materials and burning them in the street. One officer was injured after being struck by a object thrown by protesters.

Albanians have defied a ban on public gatherings because of the pandemic, and have clashed with police in recent days, mainly in Tirana. The protests follow the death of Klodian Rasha in the capital during curfew hours early Tuesday. Police say he ignored officers’ calls to stop, and ran away.

A police officer has been arrested and is being investigated for “homicide in excess of necessary self-defense.”

During the four days of protests, hundreds of people have thrown stones, flares and firecrackers at police guarding public buildings, including Prime Minister Edi Rama’s offices. They have damaged traffic lights, signs and other objects in the city, including in Tirana’s main Skanderbeg Square. Officers have responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Rama has apologized for what he called the “inexplicable and completely unreasonable” shooting, and his interior minister resigned Thursday.

But that failed to dampen the protests, which spread to other cities.

Albanian politics has been mired by infighting since the shooting, with Rama accusing opposition politicians, including President Ilir Meta, of inciting the violent protests. The center-right main opposition Democratic Party, meanwhile, has blamed Rama for Rasha’s death and is pledging they will topple the prime minister in the April parliamentary election.

During the first three days of violence, police arrested 87 people, and a total of 246 have been charged with holding an illegal protest during the pandemic, as well as with arson and public order breaches.

Authorities say 25 police officers and four protesters have been injured.

The U.S. and the European Union have called on Albanian political parties to exercise restraint.

The daily protests in Tirana have started at 6 p.m. (1700 GMT) so far and generally continue for a few hours with people trying to attack the main government building from different sides.