Following clashes between police and protestors, last night in Astir, Tirana, up to 10 people have been arrested and are being held in jail including former PD Deputy Kelvis Balliu. Five more have been released on bail.
The police claim that the detainees are guilty of organising an “illegal rally” and obstructing cars in both directions- things that have recently become illegal due to a law passed recently by the Socialist Party majority.
Residents of Astir, a neighbourhood that sits on the Ring Road in Tirana have been protesting for over a year against the road project that could see up to 300 homes demolished. The government has said it will not compensate them for the loss of their homes as they were built illegally, despite residents paying thousands to undertake legalisation procedures.
Citizens have taken all steps necessary to legalise their properties which were built during a time of severe civil and political unrest in the country. Upon announcement of the new road project, all legalisation procedures were stopped meaning citizens will not be reimbursed for their homes or businesses. Some 2000 people are expected to be displaced in this part of Tirana alone while the government will acquire prime real estate for free.
The companies that won the bids to construct the country’s most expensive road are all linked to the government and include Biba X (no experience in road construction and with unpaid bills that should have precluded them from bidding) and DH Albania (the Albanian branch of a Delaware shell company). The bidding process was full of irregularities and illegalities, and DH Albania was found to have submitted forged documents in order to win the tenders.
Avdjol Dobi, the administrator of the company is accused of forgery, fraud, and money laundering but he refuses to hand himself in.
The road is expected to cost almost EUR 40 million, around EUR 10 million per kilometre, making it Albania’s most expensive road project. This is rather unusual considering it is just a road widening in a flat, urban area.
At midday yesterday, Exit received a tip from a source within Albanian Special Forces that they had received orders to go to Astir in the afternoon, accompanied by the police. Several hours later, a large police and special forces presence was spotted at the centre of the Astir area where citizens had blocked the road to protest.
Lulzim Basha commented on the treatment of protestors which included women and children, as well as the arrests saying that it was an important week for Albania’s future and events like this hold back Albania from becoming European.
“This is a crucial week for the future of Albania when it will be decided whether to move forward to Europe or to remain stuck in the indie march. The Rama regime has decided to show how committed it is to European values of freedom of expression and the rule of law by forcibly arresting peaceful protesters,” Basha said.
OSCE Ambassador Berndt Borchardt was photographed passing by Tirana Police Directorate where protesters were being held. In a photograph published by Syri,net, he can be seen giving the crowd the finger, allegedly after a member of the crown shouted “Rama ik” (Rama go).
Women protestors from Astir are now calling for him to be declared ‘persona non grata’ by the President, due to his disrespectful behavior towards citizens protesting against losing everything.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to those I may have offended yesterday. I respect Albanians’ right to peacefully demonstrate.” – Ambassador Borchardt.
— OSCE PresenceAlbania (@OSCEinAlbania) October 14, 2019
Borchardt responded by Tweeting his apologies, adding that ” I respect Albanians’ right to peacefully demonstrate.”