Opposition lawmakers in Albania entered the fourth day of a hunger strike on Tuesday over a disputed election.
Albania's opposition Socialist Party, which controls nearly half the seats in parliament, has been mostly boycotting the assembly for eight months, holding up the passage of many laws needed to align the country with EU legislation.
The Socialists are demanding the government order a partial recount of last year's election, which narrowly handed victory to the ruling Democratic Party of Prime Minister Sali Berisha.
Blocking the main boulevard in front of Berisha's office, 22 lawmakers and around 200 supporters holed up in tents four days ago to stage a hunger strike against a vote they say was rigged.
"We have no deadline," said Ilir Beqja, a Socialist lawmaker. "The countdown has started for Berisha."
Some of the hunger strikers have been taken to hospital after showing signs of weakness in the spring heat. The opposition says it only wants a partial recount without questioning the entire election outcome.
Despite stern language from Brussels and several visits by European mediators, the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party led by Edi Rama have made little change to their positions.
On Friday, the Socialists staged a rally which organisers said drew 200,000 supporters. Democrats responded by holding a concert on May 1 to celebrate the first anniversary of NATO membership a few hundred metres away.
"If we won the elections of June 28, but did not get elected because the boxes were filled with votes produced from corruption..., this is the hour to fight so that it never happens again," opposition leader Edi Rama said.
Addressing reporters, Berisha said the right to free protest was guaranteed, adding he felt personally for their suffering.
"But, having said that, I need to stress that Mr. Rama has taken this action in an effort to overturn the court decisions with political means," Berisha said. "This contravenes the foundations of a free society."
The former communist state, once Europe's most reclusive country, applied for EU membership last year. EU ministers agreed last November to proceed with its application, but no date has been set for formal membership talks to begin.
Brussels warned in March that if the stalemate persisted, it could prevent Albania from reaching the political standards expected from a country seeking EU membership.
ReutersLast Mod: 05 Mayıs 2010, 09:02