By Gjergj Erebara
Opposition supporters across the country have blocked main roads, cashing in on popular anger over the controversial toll charges on the highway to Kosovo.
Albanian opposition parties have rallied supporters to block traffic on roads across the country, riding on popular anger over a controversial private toll on the highway linking Albania to Kosovo.
Hundreds of opposition supporters created road blocks on the highway linking the north and northeast near Milot, 50km north of Tirana, where some clashed with local police.
In Vora, 16km west of Tirana, another crowd blocked the most used highway that links both north and south and Tirana with Durres.
In Elbasan, tires were burned to block traffic on the only road linking Albania with Macedonia and the same happened at Cerme, 80km south of Tirana, on the main road towards the south and Greece.
Lulzim Basha, head of the Democratic Party, participated in the Vora protest along with his wife, and claimed that he would fight “the criminal private state” of Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama.
In Tirana, Rama told parliament, which was abandoned by most opposition MPs, that the controversial toll that first triggered violent protests last Saturday would “not start before he had found a solution” for a separate deal with the users of the road from Kukes region, the poorest part of the country that is the centre of the wave of protests.
“We weren’t fully prepared for what psychological troubles such a new practice could create for uninformed people,” Rama said.
The government says the toll on the highway to Kosovo is necessary for road maintenance.
A private consortium of local companies won the tender two years ago that effectively privatized the country’s most expensive road.
The agreement foresees the company earning revenue from both tolls and from the budget but it is unclear what that company should provide in exchange for the revenue.
Both the current and the previous government have been criticized for awarding scores of such concessionary agreements – and Rama had made clear his intentions to award more, despite the numerous allegations of corruption and unclear benefits for citizens.
The opposition parties, when in government, had their own share of concessionary agreements, including the controversial toll on the highway to Kosovo.
The procedure to award a concession for this road was started in 2011 by the then Democratic Party-LSI government. It ended when the LSI was in coalition with the Socialist Party in 2016.