15 May 2010

Protesters demand Albanian govt recount votes

8:15 pm on 15 May 2010

Tens of thousands of people have protested in Albania's capital, Tirana, calling for a recount of last year's election, which they claim was rigged.

They came out in support of Socialist Party activists who have been on hunger strike for two weeks outside the office of Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

Mr Berisha's Democrats won a narrow victory last June, but the protesters want the ballot boxes reopened. The government has rejected the opposition's demands.

This is the second large demonstration in Tirana in the space of two weeks. The last protest drew tens of thousands and this one appears to be of a similar scale.

Socialist-led opposition activists marched through the streets of the capital with banners and slogans calling for the government to reopen the ballot boxes from last June's general election, which they believe was fraudulently won by the Democratic Party.

But the government says tampering with the ballot boxes would be unconstitutional and are standing firm.

Following the protest a fortnight ago, around 200 Socialist Party members began a hunger strike directly beneath the office of Mr Berisha. Several of those have been hospitalised.

This crisis, which involved a several-months long boycott of parliament by the Socialists, has paralysed Albanian politics and is damaging the country's bid for European Union membership.

Since the fall of communism in 1991, Albania has never held an election that has met all international standards.