Albania: Security official charged with murder

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2012 3:40 PM
Albania: Security official charged with murder

A senior Albanian security official was charged with murder on Monday and placed under house arrest regarding the deaths of four opposition supporters who where shot during an anti-government demonstration a year ago.

The action was taken against Ndrea Prendi, head of a state security service for government institutions and officials, after reviewing the results of an inquiry assisted by the FBI, said Prosecutor General Ina Rama. Two other officials _ Prendi's driver, Margarit Kume, and an IT technician for the prime minister, Armando Kasaj _ were arrested and charged with concealing evidence in the murder case, Rama said.

Last year, six other lower-ranking security officers were charged with murder in the case and remain under investigation.

Rama also has requested that Albania's Parliament lift the immunity of three opposition lawmakers under investigation for allegedly organizing the mass protest and inciting violence.

The four protesters were killed in January in 2011 during a mass anti-government rally organized by the opposition against alleged corruption and vote rigging by Albania's conservative government.

The violence during the Jan. 21, 2011, rally was the worst seen in the politically volatile country in more than a decade. More than 20,000 protesters gathered outside the country's main government building throwing stones and other objects at police. Scores of protesters and security officers were wounded as police mounted baton charges and used bullets, tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. At least 15 police vehicles were overturned and burned.

The violence was an embarrassment for Albania, a NATO member that is seeking European Union membership and improvement of its internationally criticized election record.

Prendi, who is accused of shooting dead one of the four protesters, heads an Interior Ministry security service known as Guard of the Republic. Kume, his driver, is accused of trying to help Prendi suppress evidence of his alleged role in the protesters' shooting deaths. Kasaj, the government technician, is accused of deleting evidence from an 11-camera security computer.

The Socialist-led opposition maintains that conservative Prime Minister Sali Berisha is personally responsible for the protest deaths, while the government argues that its opponents tried to use violence to force their way into office.

Berisha, who has suspended Prendi from his position, claimed the prosecutor general has sided with those who tried to bring down his government.

"The prime minister believes that with her stance toward those who organized, sponsored and carried out the five-hour violent attack against the Cabinet Office, the Prosecutor General has shown herself to be a core element of the Jan. 21, 2011 events," a statement from the prime minister's office said.

Albania's opposition staged protests for more than a year following Albania's 2009 general election, but tensions rose sharply when then-Deputy Prime Minister Ilir Meta resigned amid allegations of corruption. Last week the Supreme Court acquitted him of the charge.

Speaking at the news conference on Monday alongside the prosecutor general, U.S. Ambassador to Albania Alexander Arvizu said the FBI "agreed to provide assistance in the form of the forensic examination, technical assistance" following "a direct and specific request" from prosecutor general.