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Albanian opposition supporters scuffle with police ahead of local elections

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By Benet Koleka

TIRANA (Reuters) – Supporters of Albania’s opposition parties scuffled with police outside vote-counting centres on Wednesday and burned voting equipment at three locations, in a sign of potential trouble in local government elections due on June 30.

Opposition parties have boycotted parliament since mid-February and refused to take part in the local elections, accusing Prime Minister Edi Rama of vote buying. They want Rama to quit to pave the way for a snap general election.

Despite the boycott, Rama’s Socialists have been campaigning as usual and have ignored a decree by President Ilir Meta cancelling the vote for security concerns.

In areas where the opposition are strong, their supporters and members of the local police have been involved in scuffles outside vote-counting centres since Monday. A dozen people have been held for damaging election equipment in two northern towns.

At one location they were dispersed with pepper spray, while they burned election equipment in three places.

One person, identified in local reports as the brother of a local opposition leader, suffered a fractured skull in Burrel, in central northern Albania. Crowds there chanted “Rama quit”, and “There will be no elections without the Democratic Party”.

Rama took to Twitter in a robust response.

“I ask them whether it pays to perpetrate election crimes and face the law for the sake of those who brought your parties to rock bottom and wish to transform their own troubles with the judiciary into Albania’s troubles,” he wrote.

The government has been vetting judges to weed out those it considers corrupt, in a bid to end impunity for top politicians and help the country with its bid to join the European Union, which has delayed until autumn a decision on whether to hold accession talks with Tirana.

The local office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) condemned the violence and said the perpetrators must be held accountable.

“Any attempt to derail democratic process through violent actions infringes the law, stalls the progress of the country and stains its international reputation,” the OSCE said.

(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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