| TIRANA, March 3
TIRANA, March 3 Albania's political parties
snuffed out hopes on Saturday for a compromise that would keep
open the Balkan state's path to European Union membership after
Brussels warned that an opposition boycott of parliament put
accession talks at risk.
The Democratic Party's two-week-long protest in a tent
outside Prime Minister Edi Rama's office and its boycott of
parliament have stalled the creation of bodies that would vet
750 judges and prosecutors. Reform of the judiciary is a key
condition set by the EU for starting accession talks.
The ruling coalition had offered to sit down for talks with
the Democrats, who want a technocratic government to take over
before free parliamentary elections on June 18, ahead of a visit
on Friday by the EU's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
Rama said on Saturday that the coalition had been elected to
govern but welcomed dialogue. "We are ready to answer to every
request of the opposition. What converges in the ... national
and public interest, we shall do together," Rama told reporters.
He was speaking at the launch of a petition supporting plans
to vet judges and build a clean judiciary able to fight endemic
corruption in one of Europe's poorest countries.
Rama has said the Democrats are calling for free elections
to hide their real intention of defending corrupt justice
Across Tirana's main boulevard on a sunny day, Democrat
leader Lulzim Basha said that if Rama did not agree to a
technocratic government, "the people's wave will surround you,
the people's wave will topple you".
The Democrats would never agree to vetting of judges "to
protect yourself and your ministers", he said.
The tent protest has so far been peaceful even though Basha
once called on supporters to puncture car tires, break windows
and punch anyone who mistreated them.
Mogherini told NATO member Albania it had a real chance of
clinching accession talks once the vetting process started.
"I have been very clear in saying that those who seek to
delay and dilute key reforms are putting the European Union
integration agenda at risk," she told a news conference.
"Boycott of the parliament means blocking the establishment
of the (judicial) vetting commissions and de facto stops
Albania's progress towards the European Union."
Her comments were rejected by Basha, who said: "They (the
EU) should keep the rubbish to themselves."
A European diplomat said western countries were worried by
the opposition boycott and had encouraged dialogue, because
"there appeared to be no exit strategy for Basha".
"Work needs to resume in parliament. It is a crucial year
for Albania to make progress but this is much slower than we
expected," the diplomat told Reuters.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Catherine Evans)