By Stefan J. Bos:
Accompanied by music, supporters led by the leader of Albania's main opposition conservative Democratic Party marched along the capital Tirana's Martyrs of the Nation boulevard. They demand the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama.
While many held anti-government posters and Albanian and European Union flags, some threw stones and other hard objects at Rama's office building and the Interior Ministry.
Some protesters pulled down a fence at the Interior Ministry and tried to break in the police cordon. The Democrats showed a picture of their newspaper's editor-in-chief who they said was hurt in battles with police.
Protesters are angry as they accuse prime minister Rama of links to organized crime. Also, the Democrats claim that Interior Minister Fatmir Xhafaj has been supporting his brother's drug-related activities. Earlier this month his Agron handed himself over to the Italian authorities to serve a drug-related sentence.
The minister denies the allegations, saying he would resign the moment the claims are proven. And Prime Minister Rama said in a statement that he wanted to thank the Democrats "who do not support the government but still refused to take part" in the rally.
But thousands did turn out. And Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha told them that only the prime minister's resignation could bring back stability to this Balkan nation. "That there is only one way out — this government being kicked out by the united people," he said. Basha also criticized alleged corruption by what he views as an anti-European government.
He said "hundreds of thousands" of supporters participated in Saturday's rally, but police gave no figures.
However, it remains unclear how much support the Democrats would be able to receive in new elections. Last year they suffered a massive loss in elections, securing only 43 seats in the 140-seat parliament.
The social and political turmoil comes at a difficult time for Albania, which has been a member of the NATO military alliance since 2009. The impoverished nation was expected to negotiations to join the European Union next month.