Albanian opposition supporters take to the streets

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Several thousand Albanian opposition supporters scuffled with police during a protest in central Tirana Tuesday against government economic reforms that they say have increased poverty.

Dozens of protesters threw eggs, paint and flares at the main government building, and damaged the entrance to a museum of the old Communist regime still under construction. No injuries or arrests were reported.

The main opposition Democratic Party accuses the socialist government of corruption and worsening the lot of Albania's least well-off. The government has angered many by cracking down on nonpayment of household electricity bills, increasing social security contributions and hiking income tax.

The protesters want the government to leave and that a technical government is created which can prepare for new elections, Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha said.

"This is the start of a season of protests that will stop when we achieve our goal," he said.

Tuesday's demonstration was held on the 25th anniversary of a student protest that obliged the former communist regime to end the one-party state and allow free elections.

Minor clashes with police occurred at the main government building, near Prime Minister Edi Rama's office, where part of the entrance was damaged. Opposition supporters then headed to a nearby museum under construction, where they set fire to the entrance.

The protest ended after about four hours, with no injuries or arrests reported.

Both the United States and the European Union denounced the violence.

"We call on the Democratic Party of Albania and all other parties to renounce these acts and to take all necessary steps to ensure that any future demonstrations remain peaceful and constructive," said a statement from the U.S. embassy in Tirana.

"Resort to violence is unacceptable. Albania is faced with a demanding reform agenda in view of its European integration process," warned the EU through.

Last year the bloc granted Albania candidate status and it is expected to launch full membership negotiations next year.

Rama denounced the protest as "miserable vandalism" in a post on Facebook.

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