Albanian police battle cannabis growers in Lazarat

Image source, AP
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Police have laid siege to the village of Lazarat since Monday

Albanian police have seized more than 10 tonnes of marijuana in a major operation against cannabis growers in the southern village of Lazarat.

Police say about 800 officers were needed to bring most of the village under control by Wednesday evening.

One officer and two civilians were hurt in an exchange of gunfire, they add.

Lazarat produces 900 tonnes of cannabis annually, worth 4.5bn euros ($6.1bn; £3.6bn) - equivalent to almost half of Albania's gross domestic product.

Police have besieged the village, about 230km (140 miles) south of the capital Tirana, since Monday.

They were met with heavily armed men firing rocket-propelled grenades and mortar shells.

Smoke was seen rising above the village, with some witnesses saying it was caused by locals burning marijuana plants before police closed in.

The operation is still in progress. The alleged gang leader surrendered and 10 others were still holed up inside a house, AFP news agency reports.

Interior Minister Saimir Tahiri told AP news agency that the operation would continue until "every square centimetre in Lazarat is under state control".

The operation comes as part of the new Socialist government's campaign to stamp out the marijuana economy in its bid to become part of the European Union.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Cannabis plants were openly being cultivated in fields and house gardens in the village
Image source, AP
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Local TV broadcast the police operation live, with residents warned to stay indoors
Image source, AP
Image caption,
Albania has become a major transit point for drugs entering Europe from Asia and Latin America