Albania's prime minister announces replacement of four ministers

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 12, 2017 4:10 PM

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said on Sunday he would replace four of his ministers this week, a move which failed to satisfy opposition protesters who have been calling for a technocratic caretaker government to take over until free parliamentary elections are held on June 18.

The opposition Democratic Party's three-week-long protest in a tent outside Rama's office and its boycott of parliament have stalled the creation of bodies that would vet 750 judges and prosecutors. Reform of the judiciary is a key condition set by the EU for starting accession talks.

But in his weekly address Rama said the move to replace the four ministers was not due to pressure from either his coalition partner or the protests of the opposition Democratic Party.

Instead, "the government changes were made only to allow our electoral managers to focus with fresh energies on the campaign in order to cope with the huge volume of contacts," Rama said.

Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri, Social Welfare Minister Blendi Klosi, Local Government Minister Bledi Cuci and Health Minister Ilir Beqa are also Socialist Party coordinators in key districts.

Rama hailed Tahiri, who critics have blamed for the rapid expansion of cannabis farms in the last two years, as a champion of Socialist Party reforms, turning a corrupt police force into a "trusted" institution for Albanians.

But the Democratic Party, which has accused the government of colluding with cannabis growers to steal the elections, said it would not be fooled by such "tricks" in replacing ministers.

"Our protest continues and will continue until Rama resigns, until free and fair elections are guaranteed by a technocrat government," the Democrats' leader Lulzim Basha told his backers in their tent blocking the main boulevard on Sunday.

The ministers are due to be formally replaced on Monday.

(Reporting By Benet Koleka; Editing by Greg Mahlich)