Albania PM Tries to Defuse Anger Over Theatre Demolition

The ruins of the National Theatre of Albania on May 18 2020. Photo: Gjergj Erebara/BIRN

An excavator removed rubble from the site on Monday morning, forming a contrasting image to billboards still inviting theatre-goers to come and see stage plays.

Police officers remained present at the site, which saw clashes with protesters over the weekend, but there were no protesters on Monday morning. Some pedestrians passing by the rubble filmed the scene with mobile phones. "Aren't you ashamed of protecting a gang?" one shouted at police who didn't reply.

Police removed dozens of protesters from the site on Sunday, as cameras filmed several cases of what looked like excessive force.

Prime Minister Rama and Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj, the two hate figures in the eyes of the protesters, meanwhile appealed for calm. "I want to extend my hand to anybody who disagreed with us in this battle," Mayor Veliaj said, calling the demolition one of the most difficult decisions he had ever faced - but a right one.

"I am not a saint and not blameless but I have nothing to do with dark works you accuse me of," Rama said on Twitter, addressing one protester by name.

Despite his soothing words, media reports said the police continued to behave aggressively against a group of young protesters after he sent that message.

A group of human rights organisations condemned the demolition of the theatre, calling it an attack on the cultural and historical identity of the country.

"We regret the situation our country is in today," said a joint statement signed by 15 organisations representing a wide spectrum of civil society, from Roma and LGBT rights groups to free legal aid groups and media organisations.

"We are seeing elevated state violence and...

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