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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Albanian Opposition Plans New Protests

TIRANA, Albania -- Albania's opposition parties, a day after forming a united front, said Friday that they planned a fresh protest in the Adriatic port of Durres at the weekend, despite mass arrests following last week's riots.

Judicial authorities said 149 people had been arrested and charged with violence, theft and damaging public property as clashes and protests spread across the Balkan state over the collapse of pyramid investment schemes.

Undeterred by the government clampdown and reports of soldiers and special police intimidating people in last week's trouble spots, the new opposition forum said it would go ahead with a peaceful demonstration Sunday in Durres, 40 kilometers west of Tirana.

"We are going to hold a protest against the closure of pyramid scheme companies and ask for the return of all money," a Socialist Party spokesman said.

The Socialists, six smaller parties and an association of communist-era political prisoners launched a joint Forum for Democracy on Thursday to press for the resignation of Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi's right-wing government.

The forum has also demanded urgent inquiries into the investment scandal that has thrown thousands of Albanians into despair and shaken the financial credibility of the state.

The ruling Democratic Party newspaper Rilindja Demokratike quoted Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu as saying the country was now calm and that soldiers were no longer guarding government buildings in the capital.

"But these forces are ready to intervene again if needed," the paper quoted Shehu as saying.

The independent daily Koha Jone accused Europe of turning a blind eye to the financial chaos in Albania, saying European ambassadors appeared to be more interested in saving President Sali Berisha's skin than trying to help impoverished Albanians.

Social Democratic leader Skender Gjinushi singled out the Council of Europe for criticism, saying, "Its policy of treating Albania as a political experiment must end."

A report by the Council of Europe following a disputed general election last May was much more tame than one by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which spoke of widespread irregularities.

A U.S. State Department report, made available to reporters by the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, said Albania's parliament had been elected through "a seriously flawed process."

"The government's human rights record worsened during the year," the report said. The police continued to beat detainees, journalists and opposition party members, and the judiciary was subject to widespread corruption, it added.

Berisha, facing his biggest crisis since coming to power five years ago, has tried to defuse growing tension by giving assurances that money from two pyramid schemes frozen in state banks would be returned to investors.

Parliament, almost exclusively made up of Berisha's Democrats after they won the general election with an 87.1 percent majority, passed a law late Thursday in line with the president's pledge. But thousands of unsuspecting Albanians, many who have plunged their life savings into the collapsed funds, are likely to be excluded from the payback.