Thousands seek Albania government resignation

Albanian opposition supporters accused the government of organised crime links

Thousands of opposition supporters protested Saturday in Albania's capital against Prime Minister Edi Rama's socialist government, accusing it of links to organised crime in the impoverished Balkan nation.

More than 10,000 protestors, according to journalists' estimates, called for the resignation of Rama whom they accuse of having plunged Albania in to poverty and corruption.

Organisers said up to 300,000 people attended the protest while police gave no figures for a rally which saw some 1,500 officers deployed.

The opposition also accuses the prime minister of colluding with drug traffickers and say his party has made Albania the "Colombia of Europe" referring to the country's lucrative but illicit cannabis trade, accusations Rama rejects.

"Rama has to leave. He made Albania home for organised crime and drugs," Lulzim Basha, head of the opposition centre-right Democratic Party, told a crowd waving Albanian flags and banners reading "Rama leave!" and "No to narco state!"

Protesters also carried portraits of Rama and former interior minister Saimir Tahiri, a Rama ally investigated for the past few months over his alleged links to international cannabis trafficking.

Rama's Socialist Party won an outright majority in last June's parliamentary elections to land a second four-year term.

"We will continue with our movement," leader of the left-wing Socialist Movement for Integration, Monika Kryemadhi, told protestors, who responded with chants of "We are ready to resist."

A NATO member since 2009, Albania has become a candidate for EU membership. Tirana hopes to open negotiations this year.

Rama has accused the opposition of trying to create an artificial crisis to hamper the opening of membership talks.

"Albania is no more on the map of countries cultivating and producing drugs," he told local media midweek.

"The government is leading a firm fight against crime and corruption, the justice reform is on a good track."

In 2016, the country adopted a key judicial reform sought by Brussels to fight widespread corruption and organised crime.

Albania, home to 2.9 million people, is in one of Europe's poorest countries.

The average monthly salary is 347 euros ($431) while young people have been leaving in droves with unemployment affecting around one in three.