Albania parliament votes to sack chief prosecutor

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TIRANA, Nov 5 (Reuters) Albania's parliament today voted to sack the chief prosecutor after accusations he had failed to crack down on corruption but the final decision rests with the president.

Opponents of the move attacked Prime Minister Sali Berisha saying by trying to replace Prosecutor General Theodhori Sollaku the premier was attempting to consolidate his grip on power which could hurt Albania's chances of European Union membership.

The 77 votes in favour of sacking the prosecutor by ruling Democratic Party MPs were enough to send the request to newly-elected President Bamir Topi, a former Democrat, for final approval. The leftist opposition cast 37 votes against and three abstained.

Topi's predecessor Alfred Moisiu, a non-party candidate, refused to sack Sollaku last year.

Berisha's Democrats say their pledge to fight corruption since they came to power in 2005 has been undermined by Sollaku, a charge he denies.

The prosecutor indicted one minister for corruption and pressed charges of abuse of office against other Democrats.

Senior party official Astrit Patozi said: ''His departure will restore the legality of the prosecutor's office.'' HEATED SESSION Addressing MPs in a heated session, Sollaku said the government was staging a ''coup d'etat'' against the judiciary.

He has asked Albania's constitutional Court to annul an investigation into his competence. Last year, the court decided that a similar inquiry into Sollaku was illegal.

The opposition Socialist Party said the government promised the EU to reform the judiciary but the ''clean-up'' had proved self-serving.

''This session shows you do not intend to reform the judiciary, but control it,'' said Valentina Leskaj, head of the Socialists' parliamentary group. ''We cannot be accomplices in this attempt against the constitution.'' Civil rights group ''Mjaft'' (Enough) said the prosecutor's office under Sollaku had failed to solve key crimes and was ''malfunctioning'', but the government's interference was ''a direct blow to the independence of the prosecution''.

''The prosecutor's apathy is being used by the government to undermine the foundations of the prosecutor's office, transforming individual responsibility into a political attack against judicial independence,'' it said in a statement.

REUTERS MP AS0149

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