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Arrests, strong rhetoric in Albania despite calls for compromise

By the CNN Wire Staff
Relatives grieve over the body of Herukan Deda, 40, in Laknas on Saturday a day after a deadly riot that killed Deda and two others.
Relatives grieve over the body of Herukan Deda, 40, in Laknas on Saturday a day after a deadly riot that killed Deda and two others.
  • Police arrest 113 people after Friday's violent demonstration in Tirana, a spokeswoman says
  • Albania's PM has accused the Socialist Party head of targeting him and fomenting violence
  • The opposition blames the government and says the PM's party rigged the last election
  • The U.S. ambassador retirates calls for compromise to resolve the political stalemate

(CNN) -- Despite international calls for calm and negotiations, Albania's ruling government continued Saturday to levy sharply-worded rhetoric against its opposition and arrested 113 people following a massive Friday protest that turned violent, state-run media reported.

Those arrested were charged with confronting riot police and destroying property during Friday's demonstration in Tirana, a city police spokeswoman told reporters, according to the state-run ATA news agency.

Three protesters were killed -- all shot at close range, according to Tirana Military Hospital emergency chief Sami Koceku.

The clashes left at least 35 civilians and 27 police hurt, the state-run TVSH network reported.

"Yesterday was a terrible day for Albania," U.S. Ambassador Alexander Arvizu said Saturday. "There were no winners. There were only losers."

Gallery: Albania protesters clash with police
Albanian anti-govt. protest turns deadly
  • Albania

The opposition Socialist Party claimed, on its website, that around 250,000 people had gathered outside Prime Minister Sali Berisha's office to implore him to resign. Some protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the more than 1,000 police at the scene, who used water cannon to disperse the crowd.

The Socialist Party blamed police for provoking protesters by using the water tanks and tear gas. But on Saturday, Berisha again accused his rival Edi Rama, Tirana's mayor and the Socialist Party head, of spearheading the violence.

He claimed that demonstrators were trying to takeover the prime minister's office, parliament and cabinet ministries.

"Those behind the putsch and bandits will receive the deserved punishment," he told reporters, according to ATA. "No force in this world can take over the democratic institutions of Albania, a NATO member country."

Earlier this month, in an interview quoted in a Socialist Party newsletter, Rama reiterated long-standing claims that Berisha's ruling Democratic Party had rigged the June 2009 election.

"Are there any Albanians who have not yet understood that (Berisha) stole the elections in order to rob Albania?" he said.

The country's supreme court determined that the elections were valid, and the ballots were burned by the Central Election Commission.

The Socialist Party boycotted Albania's parliament between September 2009 and February 2010, according to the U.S. State Department. Reconciliation efforts since then have been unsuccessful, with opposition parties continuing to push hard against the Democrats in alleging corruption.

The tensions escalated in the past two weeks, after a former government minister sent the media a secret recording that allegedly documented an illicit back-room deal.

In addition to the increasingly pointed, accusatory barbs between Rama and Berisha, personal slurs marred a parliamentary session this week meant to settle governmental changes following the resignation of a minister central to that video.

On Friday, Berisha vowed that there would "be no early elections" and that "general elections will be held in 2013," a rebuttal to a proposal being pushed by the opposition

Such entrenched stances, the strong language and Friday's violence came as diplomats outside Albania continued to push for a peaceful solution to a southern European nation's stalemate. Barisha, then the nation's president, was the focus of the last such severe unrest in 1997, when angry mobs protested voting irregularities and government-backed Ponzi schemes that plunged Albania into near anarchy.

Albania's current president, Bamir Topi, met Saturday with prominent U.S., U.K. and European diplomats. A day earlier, he'd urged all parties to resume talks soon and not to reopen old wounds.

"We have repeatedly urged Albania's political leaders to search for compromise," said Arvizu, one of those who met with Topi. "When one side -- or both -- insists on maximalist positions that it knows the other side cannot accept, I'm sorry, that's not compromise. Resolving political differences through street battles is also not compromise, and does not reflect the democratic aspirations of Albanians."

"It's time to desist from further provocations," he added. "It's time to stop the mutual recriminations and name-calling."

Those remarks echoed similar ones the previous day from the European Union, which has been considering adding Albania as a member. On Saturday, a key member of the EU's parliament said the recent escalation of tensions could hinder that development.

"I hope that, in this critical moment, the politicians will show maturity and will engage ... in finding a compromise solution," said Eduard Kukan of Slovakia.

Journalist Altin Raxhimi contributed to this report.