Albanian opposition protests budget in parliament with smoke bombs and fire

An MP of the Democratic Party, Albania's biggest opposition party, lights a coloured smoke bomb as a sign of protest during a parliament session in Tirana, Albania, November 20, 2023 REUTERS/Florion Goga

TIRANA (Reuters) - Albania's opposition Democratic Party members set off smoke bombs and lit a small fire, quickly extinguished, in the middle of parliament on Monday in a failed bit to stop the chamber from voting on the 2024 budget.

MPs piled chairs in the centre of the chamber and red, green and purple smoke filled the air as security kept protesters back from the seat of Prime Minister Edi Rama.

One MP appeared to light a small fire which was passed forward in a container before flames briefly spread and were doused by surrounding MPs.

The de-facto leader of the party, Sali Berisha, a former prime minister, has accused the government of trying to silence the opposition in parliament where Rama's Socialist Party has a majority.

"The battle has no way back," Berisha told reporters after the disturbance in the chamber where the budget passed a first vote in a session that lasted less than five minutes.

"Our goal is to bring pluralism to parliament."

Last month, prosecutors charged Berisha and his son-in-law with corruption over a land deal involving the grounds of a sports club. They accused him of using his influence as premier from 2005 to 2009 to exert pressure "for the conclusion of the privatisation procedures in favour of others including his daughter's husband".

His son-in-law was arrested but Berisha has immunity from prosecution as an MP. He has been ordered not to leave the country.

Berisha accuses Rama of orchestrating the prosecution against him. Rama denies the accusation.

"They (opposition) brought the vocabulary and manners of the street into politics," Rama said on X, previously Twitter, after the disturbance.

(Reporting by Florion Goga, writing by Fatos Bytyci, editing by Nick Macfie)

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