US wants upcoming elections in #Albania to proceed peacefully  

| June 26, 2019

The US has warned that this weekend’s elections in Albania must be allowed to go ahead peacefully otherwise the country’s opposition will be classed as a “violent organization”.

The unusually-strong warning comes just ahead of key local elections on Sunday, which will be boycotted by the opposition Democratic Party.

Deputy Acting Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Albania, Daniel Koski, said: “Any act of violence from today to 1 July, will force the US State Department to classify you as a violent organization”.

His get tough message was aimed at the DP opposition party, blamed for causing problems to the country both domestically and internationally.

Despite the boycott – and an attempt by Albania President Ilir Meta to cancel them –  municipal elections are due to go ahead this Sunday.  President Meta’s attempt to cancel the elections was overturned by the Electoral College.

Over several months the opposition has organized protests some of which have ended in violence. Albanian TV channel Top Channel has now reported that the opposition was warned by the US State Department that if violence continues the DP will be classified by the US as a violent organization.

On EU diplomat said: “This is a very serious statement and just one down from being classified as a terrorist organization.”

Albania has been rocked by political unrest for months and the latest twist came recently when its Socialist PM Edi Rama has a phone conversation with U.S Ambassador Philip T. Reeker, Assistant Secretary for Eurasia at the US State Department.

According to Albania’s Top Channel, Ambassador Reeker  insisted that the elections  go ahead on June 30, a position consistently held by the US and others.

Reeker said the US was following the developments in Albania “very closely.”

Last Thursday, Daniel Koski spoke directly with Lulzim Basha and Monika Kryemadhi, leaders of the opposition parties in Albania.

A US official  in Albania told this website: “The message given to them was very clear: Any act of violence from today to 1 July will force the US State Department to classify you as a violent organization.”

American classification for violent organizations is ranked only below that relating to terrorist organizations.

Such a classification affects the leaders and members of an organization whose assets could be confiscated and its bank accounts blocked. It could also involve travel bans and would directly affect those in public posts or business.

The opposition has threatened to physically prevent Sunday’s vote from being held. Last week, opposition supporters damaged ballot boxes and other election documentation to prevent the vote in some opposition-held districts.

Prime Minister Rama, despite the unrest and boycotts, has defiantly vowed to still push ahead with the polls on Sunday.

The Central Electoral Commission said the opposition party could not withdraw from the vote, thereby affirming the poll’s validity.

“The decision of the College, which is the highest judicial body in Albania on electoral matters, confirmed the decision which found the Albanian President’s decree to annul the 30 June (election) invalid,” Denar Biba, deputy head of the Central Electoral Commission, told reporters this week.

Rama’s Socialist party, who have started a lengthy process to oust the president over his decree, welcomed the decision as a victory.

“The college has spoken, all parties must respect its decision,” Taulant Balla, the leader of the Socialist MPs, told reporters.

Even so, the opposition, which is boycotting the election and holding weekly protests against Rama, brushed off the move, saying it would still honour the presidential decree.

The European Union and the United States have called the government legitimate, and have urged the opposition to return to parliament and take part in local elections.

“The opposition’s stated objective to make Albania’s democracy stronger runs counter to the violence currently being perpetrated by protesters,” the United States Embassy said in a statement.

The opposition has been holding protests since mid-February, accusing government officials of corruption and of stealing votes in parliamentary elections two years ago.

Rama, though, said the opposition’s main goal is to disrupt the country’s efforts to launch EU membership negotiations.

Last week, the EU postponed the start of membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia despite warnings a delay could undermine reform efforts and stability in the Balkans region.

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