Protesters clashed again with police in the capital Tirana on Thursday night despite the resignation of the Interior Minister over the police shooting of a 25-year-old man.
Prime Minister Edi Rama dismissed suggestions that the fatal shooting of the unarmed citizen was a result of a police culture of violence and called the event “an isolated one” – while announcing that Interior Minister Sander Lleshaj had offered his resignation.
Despite the concession, outside Rama’s office on Heroes of the Nation Boulevard, anti-riot police battled young protesters, some of whom responded violently with stones and fireworks.
Lleshaj said he was offering to resign to set a new standard in the country, recalling that current opposition leader Lulzim Basha didn’t resign in 2011 when National Guard officers killed four bystanders at a protest.
Lleshaj took office after his predecessor, Fatmir Xhafaj, resigned after it was discovered that his brother had been sentenced on drug charges in Italy and was avoiding serving jail time by living in Albania.
Lleshaj appeared in several television studios during the night defending his record against critiques that police had used violence for political purposes during his time in office.
Tirana city centre was meanwhile transformed into an urban guerrilla battlefield. BIRN saw several cases of protesters demolishing whatever they could and blocking roads, while other citizens were walking their dogs or minding their own businesses.
Police patrolled the main boulevard with water cannon and protected the Municipality of Tirana, the Ministry of Interior and the office of the Prime Minister from the rage of the protesters. Large clouds of tear gas arose over the conflict zones.
Politically motivated violence is not new in Albania. But some observers said the Thursday night rioters weren’t party organised groups but teenagers eager to clash with police, raising concerns about deeper animosities existing in the country that the death of Rasha just sparked.
Xhoi Malesia, a journalist working at Ora News TV, said police used force to stop him while he was on duty on Thursday. He was freed several hours later. The Albania’s Professional Journalists Association condemned the event and called on authorities to investigate.
“Police violence against a journalist who was manifestly presenting himself as journalist is not new and is also not acceptable,” the association said in a statement.