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Tensions rise in Albania two days before disputed municipal elections

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By Philip Pangalos
Tensions rise in Albania two days before disputed municipal elections

Tensions are rising in Albania two days before municipal elections are due to be held on June 30.

On Thursday, Albania's President Ilir Meta announced a new date and said the elections could take place in October, but Prime Minister Edi Rama has insisted they will still go ahead on Sunday.

The country has been rocked by widespread protests since February, when several opposition parties announced they were pulling out of parliament, and there are fears that the demonstrations could spread as some of those opposed have been attempting to block the electoral process, destroying voting papers and ballot boxes in many towns and villages across Albania.

Despite opposition unrest since mid-February, Rama, the leader of the ruling left-wing Socialist Party, said he was determined that the June 30 municipal elections would go ahead.

Centre-right opposition parties are boycotting the vote after months of demanding an early national election and accusing the government of vote-rigging and other wrongdoing.

Rama said their main goal is to disrupt the country's efforts to launch full membership negotiations with the European Union.

The opposition accuses Edi Rama of handing out money in return for a high voter turnout in Sunday's elections, and weapons to his supporters to stop opposition efforts to obstruct the electoral process.

Rama continues his electoral campaign across the country, accompanied by hundreds of special forces members to protect him from angry crowds.

President Meta said that moving the new election date is related to the country's hoped-for European Union accession negotiations and Albania's request for a start date.