Albanian court clears police of protesters' deaths
TIRANA, Albania (AP) -- An Albanian court acquitted two senior police officers on Thursday of shooting dead four opposition supporters during an anti-government protest in 2011.
The ruling was met with outrage by the opposition, fueling the country's rising political tensions ahead of its June 23 national election.
The Socialist opposition party walked out of Parliament in protest Thursday, and one victim's son hinted that relatives could take the matter into their own hands in accordance with Albania's long history of vendettas.
"Tradition says that blood is paid with blood," the son, Renato Myrtaj, told the private News 24 television station.
"On behalf of the families of the four Jan. 21 victims, we pledge that (the perpetrators) will not escape justice," said Socialist lawmaker Saimir Tahiri before leaving Parliament.
Presiding judge Besnik Hoxha said prosecutors were unable to prove the charges against Ndrea Prendi, head of the elite Republican Guard, and Agim Llupo, a senior officer in the unit.
A third officer was acquitted of concealing evidence about the January 2011 shootings.
An investigation found that police bullets killed four men at a Socialist Party protest against alleged corruption and vote-rigging by Prime Minister Sali Berisha's government. Prendi and Llupo admitted firing shots in the air, but denied hitting anyone.
The court decision angered the opposition, which has accused Berisha of authorizing police to use lethal force at the protest -- a claim the prime minister rejects.
"I assure the families of the four martyrs that their deaths cannot be forgotten ... until a fair verdict is obtained," Socialist Party leader Edi Rama said.
"When justice speaks, you should keep silent," responded Parliament Speaker Jozefina Topalli, a governing Democratic Party lawmaker.
Myrtaj, the victim's son, said the decision left him feeling "buried alive." He also hinted that relatives could lean toward mob justice.
"They can kill me too but there's a big family behind," he said.
A spokesman for the Prosecutor General's office, Albi Serani, declined to say whether prosecutors would appeal the ruling. He said they must read the decision first.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)