Party activist shot dead at Albanian polling station
Incident in which candidate was also injured will set back EU membership efforts
The body of Gjon Gjoni, who was shot in an exchange of gunfire yesterday close to a polling station in Lac, about 50km northwest of the Albanian capital Tirana. Photograph: AP Photo/STR
Albania’s general election was marred yesterday by a shooting at a polling station, which killed one opposition party activist and injured a candidate from the country’s ruling party.
The European Union has called the election – fiercely fought by prime minister Sali Berisha’s Democrats and ex-Tirana mayor Edi Rama’s Socialists – a “crucial test” for Albania’s membership bid.
First results are expected today but have been delayed in many previous ballots. Mr Rama blamed the Democrats for the violence in the city of Lac, about 50km outside Tirana, and accused “segments of the police” of collaborating with “criminals”.
“It is barbarous that, on an election day, in the midst of Europe, a human is shot dead from criminals supported from police,” said Mr Rama (48) whom polls suggest could take power from Mr Berisha on pledges to fight corruption and poverty.
Mr Rama called the shooting a “serious political incident . . . aimed at intimidating the voters” and said “Berisha should take responsibility . . . and pay for it.” “I appeal for people to vote, because a decision that takes just a few minutes will decide not just the next four years but the fate of a generation,” he added.
The Democrats denied responsibility for the gunfire, and condemned it, while expressing confidence that Mr Berisha would win a third term in office after leading Albania for eight years.
Analysts fear the shooting could provide a dangerous spark to a tense situation in Albania, after a very negative election campaign and accusations of irregularities from both sides. Doubts over the country’s democratic credentials and corruption have hampered its EU bid and, though Albania joined Nato in 2009, it has still not received official candidate status from Brussels.
Elections four years ago triggered major protests and deadly clashes between demonstrators and police.