Albania has faced prolonged political tension since Sali Berisha's Democratic Party narrowly won a general election in 2009 amid accusations of voter intimidation and ballot-box fraud. A corruption scandal earlier in the month triggered an opposition protest on January 21st in Tirana, the capital, which turned violent. The violence started with rock throwing and ended with three opposition supporters being killed and dozens injured.
U.S. Ambassador to Albania Alexander Arvizu said it "was a terrible day for Albania. I know Albanians across the country are very troubled by the day's events. The same holds true for people in the United States and elsewhere who only want the best for Albania and its hardworking people who have done so much to advance this country over the past 20 years."
Ambassador Arvizu said there is one hard truth about the violent protests that everyone should understand: there are no winners. There are only losers. "This was a dramatic setback," he said, "from which the country needs to recover." It is very regrettable that international calls for the protests to be peaceful went unheeded. The right to free assembly comes with an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that it is peaceful. "The violence that we witnessed," said Ambassador Arvizu, "was not necessary. Nor was it inevitable. It could have been avoided. It must be prevented from happening again, for the sake of all Albanians."
"What Albania desperately needs at this moment," said Ambassador Arvizu, "is political leadership." It is time for Albania's political leaders to compromise. Resolving political differences through street battles is not compromise and does not reflect the democratic aspirations of Albanians.
Those who perpetrated the violence during the demonstrations must be held accountable. That means prosecutors must be allowed to complete their investigations. It is time for restraint on all sides. It is time for the political leaders, indeed for all responsible Albanians, to rededicate themselves to the service of the country and the interests of its citizens.