Moment MPs watch on as smoke bomb let off in parliament and flames rage on

Opposition MPs lit flares and set off smoke bombs in the chamber of Albania’s Parliament in protest against what they claim is increasingly authoritarian rule by the governing Socialists.

Democratic Party politicians lit flares and piled chairs on top of each other in the middle of the hall as soon as Prime Minister Edi Rama took his seat to vote on next year’s budget.

A cordon of bodyguards stopped opposition lawmakers from getting near the seats of the Cabinet.

The left-wing Socialists, who hold 73 seats in the 140-seat Parliament, held a quick vote in principle and closed the session in five minutes. A debate on each budget item is expected later this week.

One of the flares sparked a small fire which was swiftly extinguished.

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The opposition wants to create parliamentary investigative commissions to probe alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.

The Socialists say the opposition’s requests are not in line with constitutional requirements.

Gazmend Bardhi, one of the opposition MPs, said they would not allow the Parliament to carry out its normal work.

He said: “Our battle is to show to each citizen that this is not the Parliament representing them.”

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However, Bledi Cuci, head of the Socialists’ parliamentary grouping, urged Albanians to note that the Parliament was approving the largest budget ever, and twice the size of 2013 when the Socialists came to power.

He added: “In democracy, the opposition speaks with alternatives and not with flares.”

The disturbances first started last month, two days before prosecutors accused Sali Berisha, former PM and president for the Democratic Party, of corruption over of a land-buying scheme that’s now under legal investigation in the capital, Tirana.

The prosecutors claim 79-year-old Mr Berisha granted financial favors to his son-in-law, who was arrested.

Mr Berisha has said that they are both innocent, and claims the case is politically motivated and that his opponent, Rama, is behind it.

Mr Bardhi said the opposition would radicalise its protests but did not elaborate.

The opposition has been divided into at least three groupings since 2021 when Mr Berisha and his family members were barred by the United States from entering the country, and later also the United Kingdom, because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Mr Berisha is the fourth top Albanian official to be barred from entering the US on grounds of corruption.

Post-communist Albania has struggled to fight corruption, which has impeded the country’s democratic, economic and social development.

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