By Benet Koleka
TIRANA (Reuters) - Allies of Albanian President Bamir Topi announced the creation of a new party on Monday, threatening to shake up the Balkan country's polarized political scene and challenge Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
Topi's five-year term as president is due to end in July and he is expected to take charge of the new centre-right party, New Democratic Spirit (NDS), when members elect a leader in September.
Since the fall of communism two decades ago, politics in Albania has been dominated by Berisha's Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, currently in opposition.
Topi, a Democrat before he gave up party allegiance to serve as president, has been locked in confrontation with Berisha, accusing his government of failing to fight corruption and strengthen law and order in Albania.
The European Union is withholding coveted candidate status for the country, home to 2.8 million people and one of the poorest nations in Europe, over the lack of progress.
"The ideological profile of NDS will be centre-right and it will stand for liberal ideas," said former Deputy Prime Minister Gazmend Oketa, a lawmaker who split from the ruling Democratic Party to help form the new party.
"We shall represent the interests of the middle class. This stratum has grown with great toil, but it has not been represented with dignity by any party."
He said the new party would work to help former political dissidents and citizens stripped of property by the communists, two issues championed by 55-year-old Topi.
The conference hall where the announcement of the new party was made, opposite the parliament building, was so packed that supporters spilled out onto the street and listened on loudspeakers that had been set up.
A former ally of Berisha, Topi was elected president with the votes of the Democrats and six opposition MPs who crossed the floor to back him.
He has neither confirmed nor denied that he will take charge of the new party, saying only that he would return to politics after his presidential mandate ends "to contribute to higher standards of Albanian democracy".
(Editing by Matt Robinson and Pravin Char)