Protests are continuing in Albania over sharply rising oil and gas prices, which many call ‘unbearable’ in a country where wages are low, and which the government blames on the Ukraine war.
Albanian police detained more than 16 people on Wednesday night on charges of “illegal gathering” following street protests in Tirana and elsewhere about the rise in oil and gas prices.
The protests, called by activists and civil organizations, and supported by opposition parties, continued on Thursday. Citizens also took to the streets in Durres, Shkodra and other cities.
They also blocked one of the main highways, “Rruga e Kombit”, which connects Kosovo and Albania. Citizens had announced that they would block it for one hour.
Protesters called the rising oil and gas prices “absurd” and “unbearable”. In Tirana, protesters outside the Prime Minister’s office held a banner that read: “Down with the government of the oligarchs”.
On Wednesday, the price of oil reached a new high in Albania, of around 2 euros a litre, which was some 30 per cent higher than a week before.
Prime Minister Edi Rama has blamed the war in Ukraine and insists the Albanian government cannot change international prices.
But the protesters accuse the government of allowing speculation by oil companies, which they consider an oligarchic monopoly.
“Ever since the first signs of the energy crisis a few months ago, the government has warned of tough times ahead and put in place a financial shield for families and small businesses,” Rama wrote on Facebook on Wednesday.
A bigger protest, to which citizens from other cities are invited, will take place on Saturday. Meantime protests in the capital will continue every day.
One of the organisers, lawyer and activist Adriatik Lapaj, wrote on Facebook that Albania “might be the only country in the world where citizens pay eight taxes and fees on top of the price of the oil”.
“For every liter of oil that now goes for around 240 lek, the government directly collects 37 lek in excise, 27 in turnover tax, 3 in carbon tax and 10 in relicensing tax. To these four taxes that go to the state budget, three other fees are paid to private concessionaires. In the end they are all paid for by citizens,” he wrote. “Finally .. value-added tax is then added. VAT on oil is 20 per cent of the final price, or about 40 lek per litre,” he added.
Protesters want the oil price lowered, and the removal of VAT.
After roads were blocked by protesters, police arrested some 16 protesters, accused of “Organizing and participating in illegal gatherings and demonstrations”, “Breaking public order”, “Disobeying the order of a police officer” and “Obstructing the circulation of vehicles”.
An economic expert, Klodian Muca, told Euronews Albania that the increase in the price of oil was not the result of the war but of manoeuvres in the market. According to him, the market is playing with prices, as the effects of the Ukraine war have not impacted as yet.
President Ilir Meta weighed into the debate on Thursday, saying: “The abusive and speculative rise in the price of fuel must be stopped immediately.”
He noted that Albanians that have an average salary of 238 euros per month and yet pay more per 1 litre of fuel than people in European Union countries where the average salary is as high as 2,250 euros a month.