TIRANA, Albania — Three people were killed in Albania Friday when pro-opposition demonstrators clashed with police and tried to storm Prime Minister Sali Berisha's office in the capital Tirana, local reports said.
The situation in central Tirana was still tense in the evening, hours after the opposition rallied mid-afternoon, saying it was protesting widespread corruption in the government.
What was to be a peaceful protest turned into a riot, as demonstrators began throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. Police responded with water cannon, tear gas and, eventually, firearms.
The victims were "shot from close range," the head of the Tirana Military Hospital Sami Koceku said. At least one of the 22 injured civilians and 17 police was suffering a life-threatening condition.
Police fired when the crowd tried to attack the building housing the office of the conservative premier, the state news agency ATA said.
Demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police and into the courtyard of the premier's office building. The entry gate into the yard was torn down and several trees set ablaze.
An official of Berisha's Democratic Party, Mesile Doda, described the riots as an attempted coup and accused the opposition Socialist Party head, Edi Rama, for the attempt, ATA said.
Rama urged his supporters to remain calm, but accused the authorities of provoking the violence with an initial attack.
"Citizens from all over Albania came here to demonstrate today and were provoked, by water cannons, tear gas," he told a press conference, blasting the police as "unprofessional."
President Bamir Topi issued a statement urging the population to remain calm, to refrain from violence and for political leaders to start a dialogue and defuse the tension.
The Socialists had called the protest against "widespread corruption" in Berisha's government.
Albania joined NATO in 2009, but its path to European Union membership remains blocked owing to lagging reforms, problematic elections and rampant corruption.
Berisha heads a government in coalition with the small Socialist Integration Movement of Ilir Meta — who last week resigned as economy and trade minister to stand trial for corruption.
Over the past two years, the opposition Socialists have led protests against Berisha's government, alleging fraud in June 2009 elections, which were also marred by violence.
Topi referred to allegations of electoral fraud Friday evening, accusing Berisha's authorities of "stirring violence to secure power which they stole."