Albania Opp. Holds Anti-Gov't Rally

Albania Opp. Holds Anti-Gov't Rally

TIRANA, Albania (AP) -- Albania's opposition on Saturday mounted a national protest demanding a caretaker cabinet to guide the country to a free and fair parliamentary election next month.

Several thousand supporters walked peacefully along Tirana's main Martyrs of the Nation boulevard to Prime Minister Edi Rama's office, guarded by hundreds of policemen.

Lulzim Basha, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party, was seen accompanied by his wife and two daughters.

The opposition has boycotted parliament since February and pitched a tent in front of Rama's office. They claim Rama's Cabinet will manipulate the vote.

"There will be no elections without the opposition," Basha said. "There will be elections only with a technical (caretaker) government." He also warned of another "final march."

Opposition political parties have not registered for the June 18 election but have said the vote will not be held without them.

Albania expects to launch full membership negotiations with the European Union if the election is free and fair and if it launches a justice reform program which so far has been blocked because of the opposition.

At an electoral rally in southwestern Albania, the prime minister mockingly called the opposition's tent in front of his office a "plastic bunker of shame."

Rama assured supporters that the new parliament will unblock the justice reform program and that corrupt judges and prosecutors "will leave the Palace of Justice and be held accountable to the new judiciary."

Attempts by EU and U.S. representatives to promote dialogue among political parties have failed. On Thursday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn warned that "the democratic process must continue, even if some decide to stay behind."

Before the opposition march, gay rights organizations in Albania held their annual pride event without disturbances. They urged the government to pass draft legislation on same-sex marriage and recognition of transgender persons. Unlike the previous year, no Western diplomats were seen joining them.