Large demonstration takes place in Albania's capital against government's economic policies

TIRANA, Albania – Tens of thousands of Albanians protested on Saturday against their government’s economic policies, including tax and energy price increases.

The demonstration on the main boulevard of Tirana, the capital, also demanded action against the country’s unemployment rate of nearly 18 per cent.

The protest, which ended peacefully at mid-afternoon, was held by supporters of the main opposition Democratic Party and its leader, Tirana Mayor Lulzim Basha.

He has accused the governing Socialists of taking the country into recession, and his party’s legislators have been boycotting Parliament since September, saying the coalition government is ignoring their complaints.

“The country is in recession and the recession was caused by the government,” Basha said in a speech to the protesters from a podium raised in front of Prime Minister Edi Rama’s office. “Tax increase is no solution.”

The Democratic Party says that Albania’s coalition government has broken electoral pledges by increasing taxes and electricity fuel prices. The opposition also accuses the government of having inflated government officials’ expenses.

“Don’t give to the oligarchs what you take from the people and citizens,” said Basha, pledging continued protests and opposition “for our rights, to save the country.”

Rama’s Socialist party swept to power in June 2013, pledging to create new jobs. However, unemployment stood at 17.7 per cent in the second quarter of 2014.

Rama has accused the nation’s previous Democratic Party administration of increasing the country’s public debt, imposing failed energy and tax policies, and granting up to $700 million in loans to private businesses that remain unpaid.

In June the European Union granted Albania candidate status, a step toward launching talks regarding full membership in the bloc.