Albania's interior minister resigns after protests over fatal police shooting

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By Matthew Holroyd  with AP
A protester throws a stone to police officers outside the Prime's Minister office during clashes in Tirana, Albania , on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020
A protester throws a stone to police officers outside the Prime's Minister office during clashes in Tirana, Albania , on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020   -  Copyright  Credit: AP

Albania's interior minister has resigned amid demonstrations after police fatally shot a young man during the country's overnight curfew on Tuesday.

Klodian Rasha, 25, was shot dead near his home in the capital Tirana after not responding to police calls to stop.

An officer, who was later suspended pending an investigation, has reportedly stated that he opened fire because he believed the man had a weapon in his hands.

Klodian Rasha's sister, Sibora, has told Euronews Albania that her brother did not have a weapon with him when he was approached by police and that he had gone out to buy cigarettes.

"I want to find out why my brother was killed. Why did they kill him when he did not have a gun with him?" she said.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Edi Rama confirmed he has accepted the resignation of interior minister Sander Lleshaj.

"My decision comes as a person and as a parent who modestly shares pain with the parents and children of Klodian Rasha's family, but also as expressions of gratitude and respect for those who trusted me," Lleshaj said on Facebook.

The minister had previously said police were investigating how the fatal shooting occurred and expressed his "deepest condolences for the tragic loss".

"I express my full confidence that responsible legal bodies will quickly, accurately and directly finalise investigations into the murder of Klodian Rasha," Lleshaj had said on Facebook.

Credit: AP
Interior minister Sander Lleshaj has resigned over the fatal police shooting.Credit: AP

Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside Albanian government buildings in the capital on Thursday for a second consecutive night.

Authorities had urged citizens to respect COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings, after violent clashes on Wednesday, largely organised over social media.

State police said that 16 officers were injured, while three people were charged with various offenses including "participation in illegal gatherings", "destroying property by fire" and "disobedience to the order of public order police officer".

Many threw stones and flares at police while trying to force their way into the interior ministry, while others also damaged festive decorations at the main Skanderbeg Square.

Police have reiterated that gatherings of more than 10 people are banned in Albania as the authorities imposed several lockdown measures to prevent a surge of new cases of the coronavirus.

AP Photo/Hektor Pustina
Police fired tear gas as clashes broke out in Tirana on Wednesday.AP Photo/Hektor Pustina

"We express our sincere condolences to family, friends, relatives, and citizens affected by this act," the state police said in a statement on Facebook.

"The State Police guarantees the citizens that it remains committed and engaged in its duty to increase public safety, to protect the life and rights of every citizen."

Albania's President, Ilir Meta, added that the "tragic" incident had "deeply shaken" everyone in the country, and blamed officials for increasing police violence.

"In the last two years... acts of extreme and inappropriate violence by certain state police have escalated," Meta said in a Facebook post.

"This is the direct responsibility of senior officials and state police leaders, as well as the minister of [the] interior, who have not so far held clear public positions for zero tolerance for such acts.

"I urge law enforcement agencies and other state authorities to respond immediately to the good need for justice society through a quick, thorough, independent, objective, and transparent investigation into the serious incident of Klodian Rasha's murder."

Speaking on Thursday, Rama stressed that the fatal shooting was reprehensible, but has nothing to do with the general spirit and work of Albanian police.

Albania is due to hold parliamentary elections in April next year.