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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Albania Police Crack Down After Protests

TIRANA, Albania -- Albania's opposition parties Thursday launched a Forum for Democracy against the ruling right-wing Democrats as the government tightened its grip around the Balkan nation following a wave of protests.


The new vehicle for anti-government action was launched after a police roundup of opposition activists on charges of inciting unrest. The country has been rocked by violent protests ignited by the collapse of pyramid investment schemes.


The alliance of seven opposition parties, including the Socialist Party and an association of ex-prisoners from the communist era, promised to investigate the financial scandal, which has plunged thousands of Albanians into despair.


Hailing the creation of the forum, Social Democratic Party deputy leader Blendi Gonxhe told a news conference: "It is an historic day ... an historic decision to found the forum.


"All the political parties and former political prisoners stressed the importance of dialogue to find a political solution," Gonxhe said in English.


Earlier, the Interior Ministry said 247 people had been brought in for questioning to help police with probes into the troubles in Tirana, the southern towns of Berat, Fieri, Vlora and Korca, the central town of Lushnje, and Diber in the east.


It denied newspaper and opposition reports that around 700 opposition activists had been rounded up in what amounted to a political crackdown.


Most of the big opposition parties boycotted a general election last May, alleging widespread poll manipulation, intimidation and vote rigging by President Sali Berisha's Democrats.


Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also reported wide irregularities -- accusations dismissed by the ruling party.


The Democrats returned to power with an increased majority, winning 122 seats in the 140-member parliament. The Socialists refuse to take up the few seats allocated them.


The pyramid scandal is the worst crisis the Democrats have faced since they toppled the Socialists, successors of the former communist party, in an election in 1992.