Sali Berisha leader of the opposition Democratic Party makes the...

Sali Berisha leader of the opposition Democratic Party makes the V-sign as he leaves the parliament in Tirana, Albania, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2023. Albania's parliament has voted to lift the legal immunity of former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is accused of corruption. Credit: AP/Armando Babani

TIRANA, Albania — Albania's parliament voted Thursday to lift the legal immunity of former Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who leads the opposition Democratic Party and is accused of corruption.

Opposition lawmakers inside the hall boycotted the vote and tried to disrupt the session by collecting chairs and flares, but security guards stopped them. Berisha declined to take the floor to speak against the motion.

The ruling Socialist Party holds 74 of the 140 seats in Albania's national legislature, and 75 lawmakers agreed to grant a request from prosecutors to strip Berisha of his parliamentary immunity. Thursday's vote clears prosecutors to seek a court's permission to put Berisha under arrest or house arrest.

With the opposition refusing the participate, there were no votes against the move or any abstentions.

Berisha, 79, was accused of corruption in October for allegedly abusing his post to help his son-in-law, Jamarber Malltezi, buy land in Tirana owned by both private citizens and defense ministry, and to build 17 apartment buildings on the property.

Berisha and Malltezi both have proclaimed their innocence, alleging the case was a political move by the ruling Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama. Prosecutors have said that if Berisha is convicted, he faces a prison sentence of up to 12 years.

Democratic Party supporters protested outside the parliament building Thursday with anti-government banners and “Down with dictatorship” chants. Berisha called on his supporters to join “a no-return battle” against the "authoritarian regime" of the Socialists.

Sali Berisha, 79, the main leader of the center-right Democratic...

Sali Berisha, 79, the main leader of the center-right Democratic Party, delivers a speech to hundreds of protesters during an anti-government rally outside the Parliament building in Tirana, Albania, Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. Albanian opposition have protested against the government's it accuses of corruption while a parliamentary commission discusses on immunity for its leader Sali Berisha. The sign reads "Opposition in Action." Credit: AP/Armando Babani

“That decision won't destroy the opposition but will mobilize it, and under the motto ‘Today or never,’ it will respond to that regime,” Berisha told reporters after the vote.

Berisha served as Albania’s prime minister from 2005-2013, and as president from 1992-1997. He was reelected as a lawmaker for the Democratic Party in the 2021 parliamentary elections.

The United States government in May 2021 and the United Kingdom in July 2022 barred Berisha and close family members from entering their countries because of alleged involvement in corruption.

Since Berisha was charged in October, opposition lawmakers have regularly disrupted sessions of parliament to protest the Socialists' refusal to create commissions to investigate alleged cases of corruption involving Rama and other top government officials.

Sali Berisha, 79, the main leader of the center-right Democratic...

Sali Berisha, 79, the main leader of the center-right Democratic Party, arrives at the Parliament in Tirana, Albania, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2023. Lawmakers in Albania have gathered for a new session that the opposition tried to disrupt demanding the government to be investigated for alleged corruption. Credit: AP/Armando Babani

The disruptions are an obstacle to much-needed reforms at a time when the European Union has agreed to start the process of harmonizing Albanian laws with those of the EU as part of the Balkan country’s path toward full membership in the bloc.

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