Former President Sali Berisha called Thursday for a nationwide protest against the government even as lawmakers opened deliberations on whether to lift his immunity from arrest.

A defiant Berisha called Prime Minister Fatos Nano "the champion of corruption in Europe" and led an opposition protest rally of about 2,000 Democratic Party supporters in the capital, Tirana.Berisha, who could be arrested on charges of seeking to overthrow the government if he loses his immunity as a member of parliament, called Thursday for nationwide protests Friday, saying they would be peaceful.

Before the rally, he called Nano "the most dangerous leader, staying in power only by arresting, by murdering, by executing . . . the opposition."

He accused Nano's secret police of cutting off access in Albania to independent media, forcing people to rely on state media, which he claims is sending out false, biased information. He said Albanians must listen to foreign or independent media in order to understand what is going on.

"Fatos Nano is keeping the Albanians in darkness," he said.

Nano's elected government is backed by Western powers desperate to prevent the unrest from influencing other crises in the region, mainly the violence in neighboring Kosovo province in the Yugoslav republic of Serbia.