Albanian opposition rallies to demand prime minister’s departure

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Thousands demonstrated in Tirana on Saturday calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama over corruption claims and blaming him for rising poverty in Albania.

The opposition, which staged the rally, also accused Rama of having “secret links” with a former FBI executive who they believe influenced the US State Department to sanction one of the prime minister’s political rivals.

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“Edi Rama committed a hostile act corrupting a former FBI official in order to eliminate the opposition,” right-wing opposition leader and former Prime Minister Sali Berisha told the crowd as they chanted “Rama, go away.”

Retired FBI special agent Charles McGonigal was arrested in January for alleged murky dealings with foreign actors, including concealing $225,000 in cash received from an ex-employee of the Albanian secret service.

According to the indictment, the agent also “maintained an ongoing relationship with Prime Minister of Albania.”

The opposition believes Rama had the agent in his pocket and “financed political lobbying” against Berisha.

The Balkan nation’s first democratically elected president after the fall of communism, Berisha was banned from entering the United States in 2021 over “corrupt acts while he was prime minister.”

Rama rubbished the accusations as “extreme defamations,” and claimed the investigation against the former FBI agent “has nothing to do” with him or the Albanian government.

With 1,000 police officers deployed to maintain order, the rally went off peacefully although a group of some 10 demonstrators threw smoke grenades towards the heavily-guarded government building.

Berisha’s Democratic Party organized the protest alongside the party led by former president Ilir Meta, who recently joined forces in a bid to remove the prime minister.

The opposition says Rama has plunged Albania into poverty and caused the mass migration of citizens.

The nation has seen a sharp rise in prices over the past two years, especially in staple foods and gasoline, which soared following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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