TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Albanian police clashed with opposition supporters who tried to force their way into parliament to disrupt a vote on the appointment of an interim prosecutor general Monday.
Around 3,000 demonstrators, holding EU and U.S. flags and shouting anti-government slogans, gathered outside parliament to condemn the selection of a temporary prosecutor general which they say is unconstitutional.
Riot police pushed back the protesters after they broke through a first security cordon outside parliament. The demonstrators threw smoke bombs toward officers. Local media reported that several people have been injured.
Opposition lawmakers also threw smoke bombs inside parliament, but governing legislators managed to hold the vote and elect Arta Marku as acting chief prosecutor with 69 votes from the ruling Socialist party in the 140-seat parliament. Two lawmakers voted against the appointment and two others abstained, while the opposition boycotted the vote.
Marku's brief swearing-in ceremony after the vote was held under a cloud of smoke as well.
"This is the beginning of the popular uprising," main opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said before ending the protest but without explaining how it would continue.
Following a meeting with opposition counterparts, Basha said that in the first weeks of January they would hold a big protest and other nationwide protests "while we take the proper political steps at the parliament too."
Basha's predecessor in the post, Sali Berisha, who is also an Albanian ex-president and prime minister, mentioned "extermination of the lawmakers' mandates which means no lawmaker will be a lawmaker anymore." He didn't make clear, however, how would that be done and what it will mean in practice.
An interim prosecutor general is supported by the European Union and the U.S., which have helped Albania draft judicial reforms. The reforms, needed for the country's bid to launch EU membership negotiations, have already started but a permanent commission to appoint a prosecutor general hasn't been created yet.
The U.S. embassy in Tirana strongly condemned the violence and urged all parties to show restraint.
"The Prosecutor General who refused to prosecute politicians is gone," it said in a statement. "The people of Albania are impatient for justice. And the politicians are afraid."
Judicial corruption has plagued post-communist Albania, hampering its democratic processes. A justice system reform approved last year, aiming to ensure that judges and prosecutors are independent from politics, and to root out bribery, has just started its vetting, checking judges' personal and professional backgrounds.
The opposition — made up of the center-right Democratic Party and the center-left Socialist Movement for Integration — claims the parliament is not entitled to elect an interim prosecutor general and should wait for the creation of the commission to do that.
Prime Minister Edi Rama, also the Socialists' leader, blamed the opposition for such a "scene that damages Albania's image at a time when we are at the best moment expecting the launch of the EU membership negotiations."
Rama was heading later for a dinner in Brussels with other Western Balkan countries' counterparts invited by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Governing Socialist parliamentary group head Taulant Balla said that the commission will be created in a few weeks but "such an important institution as the prosecutor general's office cannot remain vacant even for a day."
The Socialists also base their decision to elect an interim prosecutor general on an interpretation of the country's constitution that they requested and received from EU and U.S. legal assistance missions present in Albania.
Albania, a NATO member since 2009, was granted EU candidate status in 2014 and hopes to launch negotiations next year.
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