The leader of Albania’s centre-right Democratic Party was attacked on Tuesday during an anti-government protest held near a summit of leaders of the European Union and their Western Balkan counterparts in the Albanian capital.

Sali Berisha, a 78-year-old former president and prime minister, was leading hundreds of protesters walking towards the summit area accompanied by former president Ilir Meta when a man came out of the crowd and punched him in the face.

The attacker was quickly subdued by bodyguards. Witnesses saw Berisha with a bloody face.

It is unclear who the attacker was or the motive for the attack.

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Police said in a statement that the 31-year-old suspect who was taken into custody had suffered from “psychiatric irregularities” and had previously faced charges of violence and drug trafficking.

The opposition protested against the alleged corruption of Prime Minister Edi Rama, to whom they also attributed the crisis in the cost of living in the country and the exodus of young Albanians leaving for a better life in Western European countries.

Berisha directly blamed Rama for the attack, saying he wanted to prevent the opposition from organizing the protest.

Sali Berisha, the 78-year-old leader of Albania’s centre-right Democratic Party, speaks after being attacked during an anti-government protest held near a European Union leaders’ summit in Tirana, Albania, December 6, 2022.
(AP Photo/Franc Zhurda)

Rama denounced the attack, saying “violence has never been the tool to address any problem or concern” and that the law should deal with the attacker.

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Albania has seen price increases of more than 8% this year, especially for staple foods and fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Rama says his cabinet has kept inflation low compared to double-digit inflation elsewhere in Europe, and noted that the government subsidizes electricity for households and small businesses.

Berisha’s party has been plagued by infighting after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken barred Berisha and his immediate family from entering the US last year for “acts of corruption that undermined democracy” during his term. 2005-2013 term as prime minister. Britain did the same this year.

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EU leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts are in Tirana on Tuesday for talks aimed at strengthening their partnership as Russia’s war in Ukraine threatens to reshape the geopolitical balance in the region.

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