(AFP) – Feb 18, 2011
TIRANA — Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied in Albania's capital Friday, nearly a month after four demonstrators were killed in a similar protest that turned violent.
The demonstrators brandished Albanian flags but also signs reading "Berisha go away", in reference to Prime Minister Sali Berisha. Others read "Justice", and "We want early elections".
Gathering a crowd of between 20,000 and 30,000 people according to independent estimates -- organisers put their numbers at 200,000 -- the rally was called by the Socialist Party of Tirana's mayor Edi Rama.
The demonstration, which began with a march through the capital and ended outside government headquarters, was ringed by dozens of riot police but was generally peaceful.
The last opposition rally at the same spot two weeks ago attracted tens of thousands of people.
"We do not want to take power by having protests, but we will continue our demonstrations to make the leadership quit," Rama said at the end of the march, and called for fresh anti-government rallies across the country.
"We will remain here to demand free and fair elections that will make the government leave," he added.
Berisha has accused Rama of trying to use the protest to launch a coup, a charge the opposition leader has denied.
The government has appointed a parliamentary committee to investigate what happened, but opposition deputies have refused to cooperate.
Four top officers of Albania's Republican Guard accused of being involved in the deaths have been detained for a month while the prosecutor's office continues its probe. Prosecutors have also called in the leaders of the opposition to testify about their version of events.
The current political crisis is the longest Albania has known in its post-communist democracy. Both sides are now under huge international pressure to make sure new rallies do not turn violent.
This weekend the government is also planning a show of force as its supporters are expected to flock to a specially organised concert to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
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