Albanian scam victims riot, turn on government
January 25, 1997
Web posted at: 9:55 p.m. EST (1455 GMT)
LUSHNJE, Albania (CNN) -- Violence in Albania escalated
sharply Saturday when an angry mob beat up riot police and a
senior government official appealing for order.
(910K/23 sec. QuickTime movie)
A fraudulent investment scheme, in which critics claim the
government colluded, has taken the savings of large numbers
of Albanians, enraging the masses and causing widespread
rioting against the government.
President Sali Berisha Saturday night appeared on state
television and made a special plea for calm.
He said depositors would get their money back, but appealed
for time. "It is not possible to give money to 300,000 people
in one day," he said.
Rioters not soothed
Leaders of the riot were not soothed. They overwhelmed police
in the provincial town of Lushnje, burning municipal
buildings and smashing windows at random. There was little
the government could do to stop them.
Trying to calm the crowd, Tritan Shehu, Albania's deputy
prime minister and foreign minister, arrived Saturday via
helicopter and confronted stone-throwing protesters who
shouted "Down with the government!" and "We want our money!"
A rock struck him in the head, and he was attacked by a man
wielding an iron bar, leaving him in obvious pain. He fled to
the locker room of the town soccer stadium with his
bodyguards and plain-clothes policemen and eventually
Life savings wiped out
Many people in this isolated and formerly communist country -
- the poorest in Europe -- sank their life savings into get-
rich-quick schemes. Some of the funds stopped paying on
schedule about a week ago, setting off riots across the
Police detained 118 people associated with the funds,
including two fund operators. Police also used batons to
quell rioters in Tirana, the capital.
But unrest continued in at least five other communities
across the nation of 3.2 million people, state television
In Lushnje, mobs turned the tables on police. At one point a
group of police were ferried into the stadium where the
deputy prime minister was trapped.
A crowd immediately set upon them and seized their weapons.
The police pleaded that they had been forced to come, but to
no avail. The mob beat them anyway.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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