Thousands of opposition protesters in Tirana on Saturday demanded the resignation of the socialist government of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama accused of collusion with organised crime.
“On your behalf, on behalf of all Albanians and the opposition we ask that Edi Rama and his illegal government leaves,” Lulzim Basha, the leader of the Democratic Party, said to the crowd. Protesters waving Albanian flags, chanted slogans such as “Rama go” and “No to a narco-state!”
Albania is one of Europe’s leading cultivators and smugglers of cannabis. At the peak of its production, the cannabis industry in Albania was worth several billion euros – about half the country’s gross domestic product. Although the area of the Albania countryside under cannabis cultivation has been reduced since a 2014 crackdown on the narcotic, it still remains a major producer as well as a key transit point for drugs into Europe.
Just last week, police in the port city of Vlore discovered a boat with 1.7 tonnes of marijuana in it that would likely have been smuggled across the Adriatic to Italy had it not been abandoned, possibly due to engine trouble.
Some 50 tons of the drug were seized by Albanian and Italian police in 2017, which pales in comparison to the several thousand tons estimated to be cultivated in the country every year.
More than 10,000 people attended the protest, according to journalists’ estimates. Some 1,500 police officers were also present. The protesters carried portraits of the Prime Minister and the former Minister of the Interior, Saimir Tahiri, an ally of Mr. Rama who has been under investigation for several months for alleged links to international drug trafficking. The case revolves around the arrest of Moisi and Florian Habilaj, distant cousins of Tahiri, suspected of smuggling over 3500 kilos of cocaine from Albania to Italy.
In tapped recordings obtained by Italian police the arrested gang members spoke about making large payments to the former minister.
The Socialist Party of Edi Rama won the parliamentary elections in June and with it a second four-year term in government. Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009 and wishes to open accession negotiations with the European Union this year.
Rama accuses the opposition of wanting to create an artificial crisis to prevent the opening of these negotiations. “The government is leading a firm fight against crime and corruption, the justice reform is on a good track,” he told the local press this week.