By Erl Murati
Political tensions, chronically high in Albania, have soared in the days since the January 23rd arrest of Republican Guards Chief Commander Ndrea Prendi for murder.
The charges stem from the January 21st 2011 opposition demonstration outside of Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s office in Tirana. Four people were killed, and many others — including police officers — were injured during the protest.
The prosecutor’s office ordered two others arrested — Prendi’s driver Margarit Kume and Armando Kasa, chief of IT at Berisha’s office. Kasa is accused of erasing video of the shootings from the surveillance cameras, in effect concealing evidence of the murders, according to prosecutors.
The FBI assisted in the Albanian prosecutor’s investigation, providing weapon and other evidence expertise.
The government has responded with some scorching allegations of its own — publicly accusing the attorney general of participating in a failed coup d’état with the opposition.
“The attorney general not only didn’t provide any measure against those who planned and executed the assault against the prime minister’s office, but also at the prosecutor’s office important evidence and testimonies of this investigation have been destroyed. Prosecutor General Ina Rama has co-ordinated her work with opposition leader Edi Rama, informing him of the investigation details,” Erla Mëhilli, Berisha’s spokesperson, tells SETimes.
Ratcheting up emotions even higher was a request the prosecutor’s office sent to parliament asking that immunity be withdrawn for three lawmakers, all members of the main opposition Socialist Party (SP). They are suspected of prompting protesters to assault the police and national guards at Berisha’s office, using rocks and batons.
SP lawmaker Gazmir Bizhga tells SETimes that’s not what happened. “Citizens came to protest peacefully against injustice and poverty, as all people of democratic countries do. But as a response to this protest, they got real bullets fired by the Republican Guards’ weapons.”
The opposition goes even further, demanding that the prosecutor’s office request that Berisha’s immunity be withdrawn, so he can face charges.
“The real person who ordered those murders is Sali Berisha. This is proven by the fact that his people have erased all the data from the prime minister’s office server,” Bizhga tells SETimes.
The EU, OSCE and US publicly supported the investigation and the state prosecutor. During the press conference at which Prosecutor General Ina Rama announced the three arrests, US Ambassador to Albania Alexander Arvizu joined her at the podium.
The EU has made its concerns clear over the course of the past several months, and has continuously appealed for both the SP and Berisha’s Democratic Party not to interfere with the investigation and to re-establish ever-elusive political dialogue.
Albania hopes to get EU candidate status this spring, but the events of January 21st 2011 and its aftermath may well affect Brussels’ decision.
“I want to emphasise something very important. Rule of law. That is not only an element that would help Albania towards EU [membership], but also it is what Albanians expect,” EU Ambassador to Tirana Ettore Sequi said.