Protestors Gather in Tirana to Protest Open Balkan Initiative

From: Alice Taylor

Protestors Gather in Tirana to Protest Open Balkan Initiative

Several hundred protestors gathered on Tirana’s main boulevard on Monday evening to protest against the Open Balkan initiative on the day the three leaders involved, met in Albania.

The protest was organised by ex-prime minister and president and founder of the Democratic Party Sali Berisha. Prime Minister Edi Rama met with Serbian President Aleksander Vucic, and Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev today to sign a number of agreements facilitating open trade and movement for citizens of their respective countries.

While the protest was largely peaceful, a Serbian flag that was hoisted on the boulevard to welcome the foreign leaders was burned.

Members of the PD that have rallied behind Berisha spoke at the event as well as some politicians from the same political group in Kosovo. Overall, Kosovo is opposed to the initiative as it says it will not help the situation regarding Serbia’s failure to recognise their independence. Kosovo, along with Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina are also not involved in the initiative over fears it could hinder their EU path.

Protestors called for all agreements signed so far to be nulled, and for any further agreements to be suspended.

There was a heavy police presence in the centre of the city and hundreds of police stationed outside the prime minister’s office.

The Democratic Party is currently divided between Chairman Lulzim Basha and founder and persona non grata in the US, Sali Berisha.

Berisha was declared non grata by the US for “significant corruption” in the summer and following his election to parliament at the April general elections, pressure from the EU and US-led to Basha excluding him from the PD’s parliamentary group. Berisha vowed to fight back and oust Basha as chairman, aiming to take the party’s reins once again.

Last weekend, Berisha held an assembly in the national stadium where 4934 people voted to oust the chairman. Basha held his own vote on Saturday (18 December) where the party’s highest decision making body voted to nullify Berisha’s decisions made the previous week. They also voted to bar anyone who is non grata in the US from holding executive posts within the party.

Berisha claimed that 4934 people voted with him on 11 December, while Basha claims that 5004 voted with him. There are only 7646 people in the PD National Assembly, meaning that either some people voted in both votes, or there are some inaccuracies with the tallying.

Also on Saturday, Berisha held a nationwide referendum for over 75,000 registered party members. Some 43,385 are reported to have voted, with 98.8% voting to oust Basha.

While neither side of the warring faction recognises the other, Basha remains the chairman of the Democratic Party and retains his position as the leader of the main opposition in parliament. The referendum’s outcome suggests he could have lost support from the majority of the party membership. However, he still enjoys the confidence of the executive committee, parliamentary group, and regional leaders.

Berisha maintains that his being declared non grata was lobbied for by Prime Minister Edi Rama with the support of George Soros. He has also filed defamation charges against US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a Paris court.

The situation will remain tense, with both sides claiming legitimacy until one or the other gives up, or the next elections.

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