Image: Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Albania
Gent Shkullaku  /  AFP - Getty Images
Protesters of opposition parties shout slogans during a demonstration outside the parliament building on Monday in Tirana, Albania.
updated 11/17/2008 6:32:30 PM ET 2008-11-17T23:32:30

More than 3,000 people demonstrated in front of Albania's parliament Monday in support of 10 lawmakers on hunger strike in opposition to a draft election law.

The deputies have been on a hunger strike since Nov. 10 to protest the election law changes that they say will keep small parties out of parliament.

Protesters chanted "This won't pass" as they waved Albanian flags and held up protest banners.

The rally ended peacefully. Protest organizers called on the crowd to repeat the rallies in front of parliament every day.

"No one will force them stop their hunger strike and their defense of our right of the vote," said Ilir Meta of the opposition party Socialist Movement for Integration.

The hunger strikers remain in parliament. Supporters said they are becoming frail and expressed concern for one elderly lawmaker who suffers from diabetes.

Delivering a message
Albania was invited to join NATO earlier this year and is keen to press ahead with voting reforms that are seen as necessary to further integration with the European Union.

But Albanians are also highly sensitive to changes in voting rules after enduring decades of oppressive Communist rule.

Small parties argue the proposed changes would exclude them from parliament by introducing a region-based voting system.

Several of the hunger strikers are members of a small Christian Democrat party that is in Prime Minister Sali Berisha's governing conservative coalition.

Albania elects its deputies to the 140-seat parliament using a partial majority system. General elections are due next year.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors democratic reforms in many former Communist countries, expressed mixed views over the proposed voting changes.

The OSCE in the past has criticized Albania for failing to hold elections that meet international standards. It said the new law requires "fine tuning."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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