TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albania's prime minister said Friday that the ruling Socialist Party had withdrawn its candidate from the mayoral voting in a western town, apparently fearing a confrontation with opposition supporters who are planning a national protest there on the same day.
The main opposition Democratic Party has threatened "civil disobedience," starting with the mayoral election Sunday in Kavaja, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of the capital, Tirana.
Prime Minister Edi Rama warned the opposition not to disrupt voting in a local election in a western town and instead accept the offer to help monitor parliamentary polls next month.
Rama warned the opposition that "preventing people from casting ballots is a serious crime and that crime should not, must not and will not be allowed to be committed."
"There is a plan to destabilize the country. The (opposition's) tent has been pitched to put into action such a plan ... This is not guesswork but there are facts," he said.
An independent candidate is still running for the post. It's not clear how the voting will proceed.
Opposition supporters in Tirana and Kavaja were seen celebrating after Rama's announcement.
The U.S. Embassy, whose ambassador, Donald Lu, has been very active in mediating between the two leaders in the last days, also hailed Rama's decision urging "all sides to show restraint."
"Violence has no place in the democratic process," a statement said.
British Ambassador Duncan Norman also hailed the decision, restating a "call to all members of all political parties to ensure that the run-up to these elections, and the elections themselves, are free from violence."
Rama, also leader of the Socialist Party, and Democratic leader Lulzim Basha, have failed to reach a compromise after two meetings this week.
"Let's unite Sunday ... in a peaceful but determined confrontation that will symbolically mark the fall of the old republic and the founding of the new republic," Basha told his supporters in Tirana, speaking earlier at a tent that has been pitched in front of Rama's office since February.
The premier reminded the Democrats they had until Monday to register candidates for the June 18 election.
The opposition has boycotted parliament since February, demanding that Rama resign before the election because of fears that his Cabinet will manipulate the vote.
President Bujar Nishani, who held two failed meetings between Rama and Basha in his office, hailed the Socialists' candidate withdrawal "as a possibility to continue the political dialogue between the parties to find a compromise for the political crisis in the country."
Rama has offered direct monitoring of the voting with a task force of opposition representatives and international monitors. That hasn't been accepted by the opposition so far.
European parliamentarians also have failed to convince the opposition to change its stance. Parliament was dissolved Thursday as required by the constitution before a general election.