Thousands of Albanian opposition supporters protested on Sunday on the first anniversary of a deadly blast at an army depot outside Tirana, calling on Prime Minister Sali Berisha to quit and to stop his attacks on the justice system.
After holding a rally in the village of Gerdec, the site of the blast 17 kilometers outside Tirana, opposition leaders headed by Socialist Party leader Edi Rama held a march towards the capital brandishing an oversize Albanian flag.
The march ended in the evening with a silent walk from Tirana’s central Skenderbeg square to the Prime Minister’s office, the crown carrying banners with the slogan “don’t forget”.
The blast at the depot in the village of Gerdec, on March 15 2008, killed 26 people, injured more than 300 and left over 3,000 homeless. According to the emergency services, 400 houses were totally destroyed, 188 were severely damaged, 200 sustained major damage and 1,600 others were slightly damaged.
“We are here today because some of us or not alive anymore,” said Rama speaking to the crowd in Tirana, while stressing that the victims of the blast were victims of government corruption. “The government should take its hands off the justice system,” Rama added.
The rival opposition party of the Socialist Movement for Integration, LSI, headed by former Prime Minister Ilir Meta also held a rally in front of Berisha’s office calling for his resignation.
Berisha rejected the protests through a statement as “an attempt to manipulate the memory of the victims.”.
General Prosecutor Ina Rama told reporters last week that prosecutors will soon file a case to the Supreme Court over the deadly blast, indicting 28 people, among them former high officials of the ministry of defense.
The indicted include the former defense minister Fatmir Mediu who was charged with abuse of power and breaking tendering rules.
Apart from Mediu, the indicted also include former Chief-Staff Luan Hoxha, General Shpetim Spahiu, and General Zija Bahja. All have denied any wrongdoing. If convicted they face up to seven years in prison.
Prosecutors have also filed murder charges against Mihal Delijorgji, the owner of the Alba-Demil company that managed the demolition work at the blast site, its administrator Dritan Minxholi, and Ylli Pinari, the former head of Albania’s arms export agency MEICO that was in charge of supervising the demolition work at the site.
Sokol Ngjeci, a MEICO supervisor for the demolition site, was also charged with murder.
If found guilty, the four face between 20 years to life in prison.
Estimates published by the Albanian government say the explosion caused more than €15 million in damages to the surrounding area. The explosions began when workers were moving stocks of old Chinese and Soviet shells stored at the base, a central collection point for the arsenal amassed by the communist-era dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
Albania has been trying for years to dismantle the obsolete arsenal, which was one of the conditions for the country’s successful entry into NATO.